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Are you OK? | Weight gain increasingly common during COVID-19 pandemic

Many folks gained between three and 15 pounds during the COVID-19 pandemic closures.

Leading medical schools have identified a new trend: pandemic weight gain. 

While weight loss might be a goal for many of us this summer, Dr. Jeffery Eisen, the chief medical officer for MultiCare Behavioral Health, says it’s also important to manage the mental health side of the weight game.

Why Pandemic Life Led to Weight Gain for Many 

During the throws of the pandemic and its restrictions, Eisen said we experienced a trifecta of disruption to our routines and plenty of stress. As a result, many of us sought out ways to comfort ourselves and others. He said this is a natural response to disruption and stress.

The pandemic changed our routines. If we were working, we saw our daily activities abruptly shift. Many workplaces reduced or changed hours. There were layoffs and closures. For those still working at a job site, there were new health and safety guidelines to follow, trainings to guard against risk and almost constant updates to keep track of. For others, work from home policies were quickly put into place. Working from home means round the clock access to work.

Routines were also disrupted for families and children who transitioned to online learning. Eisen said the rapid disruption of routine along with far less social structure caused many changes in our behaviors and to our mental health. A majority of us experienced anxiety, depression or both.

Eisen added that nearly everyone, and especially those who are vulnerable or from marginalized communities, faced increased stress. Stress levels skyrocketed with waves of infection, evolving information, political unrest and division, along with the shifting of things that were once life’s certainties.  

Eisen said for frontline health care workers like himself, stress was a constant throughout the pandemic. Creating calm or peaceful moments in the midst of stressful episodes can be therapeutic and beneficial to our mental health and emotional wellbeing. Like so many, Eisen found himself pursuing bread baking. He says time in the kitchen soothed his spirit. Making food was nurturing for him. Making food is therapeutic for many of us. In many cultures and faith traditions, the sharing of food is a nurturing act intended to bring comfort in distressing times.

Living with Weight Gain & Accepting Transition

Summer 2021 sure seems like a time of transition for many of us. This includes the physical state we’re in, but Eisen said it’s important to remember that your body is always changing, and weight fluctuation is normal for most of us.

Rather than focus on radical restrictions and super hard workouts, which may only backfire, Eisen recommends setting your sights elsewhere. There are three actions he says are beneficial for your mental health while you’re considering your weight goals.

First, take inventory of all you truly gained. Make a list of the skills and habits you acquired that you would like to keep. Celebrate yourself for making it through a very difficult period in life and learning new things.

For example, Eisen said he gained the skill of bread baking and he has no intention of giving it up. Through his baking, Eisen says he formed bonds with his family, and he enjoys the comfort his baking brings to others. 

Second, Eisen said it’s best to start simple and small. Choosing to make one simple and seemingly small change for your health at a time is the best method for building healthier habits. You might choose to drink 80 – 100 ounces of water a day or to get out for a walk three or even five times per week. Work at your goals for at least a month before adding more. This way you can adapt and enjoy the kind things you are doing for yourself.

Third, Eisen said that with great weather, it is a wonderful time to enjoy western Washington’s natural beauty. Simply being in nature can help reduce your stress levels, sharpen your cognitive abilities, and help you connect with others. 

Trouble Losing Weight? 

Finally, some struggle to lose weight. If simple changes to improve your nutritional intake and exercise more aren’t working and you need or want to lose weight for health reasons, Eisen said to get in touch with an expert.

Your personal care physician is a good first step. Talking with your doctor about your challenges can help you gain a better understanding of your health and connect you with resources, like a nutritionist. Additionally, Eisen emphasizes that an integrated approach to care works for many of us.  At MultiCare, patients can access behavioral health experts and personal care physicians in the same clinic. This can be a big help if there is an emotional component connected to a weight issue. 

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