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The year 2020 has impacted us all in unfathomable ways. Amongst the plethora of challenges COVID-19 brought with itself, the challenge of maintaining a healthy lifestyle has been most profound.  With the onslaught of the pandemic, pre-packaged foods were expeditiously depleted from the grocery stores. Comfort food recipes rich in carbohydrates started trending on social media. Stress eating and excessive drinking became a new norm. Physical activity became restricted and sleep hygiene was impacted. These were all tell-tale signs of an obesogenic environment. Recently, a rather “funny” term of “Quarantine-15” has been used in social media to describe the weight gain during the pandemic; the implications of this on health, however, is not so funny.

Obesity is a complex condition that arises from an interplay of genetic, environmental, metabolic, and medical causes. With the ongoing stress, our fight or flight responses are triggered in the brain which predisposes us to more stress eating. This is a type of primitive response in our bodies to avoid getting famished. Our cortisol and insulin levels are also deranged in addition to multiple other hormones that affect our appetite. A similar interplay of neurotransmitters in our brain also causes issues like emotional eating and binge eating during stressful times.

Therefore, this pandemic is imparting its effect on weight gain from all directions. Environmental stress, activity restriction, unhealthy dietary choices, and deranged routines are wreaking havoc on our health.

A question often comes up, “with all the stressors currently should I also stress about my weight gain”?. A simple answer to that is if you are in the healthy weight range with a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 to 25 kg/m2 gaining 5-10 lbs may not be deleterious. Conversely, if you have been struggling with weight and have a BMI of 25-30 kg/m2, you need to make a conscious effort to take charge of your health. Once past the BMI of 30kg/m2 medical assistance and interventions are required to lose weight.

How can we manage this complex situation? Although obesity is a much complex disease that cannot only be addressed by the afore-mentioned strategies, these certainly can get you started on the right track.  Start off by investing in a weighing scale. This will be a huge motivation for you to shed some extra pounds. Calculate your BMI which is your weight (kg) over height (m2). Be mindful of what you are consuming, avoid carbohydrates, and plan your meals. Consume fewer calories, avoid concentrated beverages as they add empty calories to your body, and incorporate more protein in your diet. Furthermore, don’t eat for the sake of eating; eat only to fuel your body. Try to be more active and sleep at an appropriate time, this will help regulate your metabolic rate. If you work from home, wake up and get dressed in your work clothes. Wearing sweatpants will only mask the excess pounds gained.

A loss of just 10 percent of body weight can impart great health benefits, including improvement in blood pressure control, fatty liver disease, or pre-diabetes. It will also protect you against cancer, stroke, heart disease, and arthritis.

The first step in solving a problem is recognizing that there is one, with that half of the battle is usually won. Take charge of your health and consult your physician to seek further management if you are struggling. Us doctors are always ready to be at your service.