COVID-15? More like COVID-30: Getting a handle on pandemic weight gain.

Photo of a person standing on a scale taken from above

Alarmed by the number you’re seeing on your bathroom scale? You aren’t alone. Almost half of all adults say they’ve been eating more during the pandemic.

The term “COVID-15” has gained popularity as a variation on the “Freshman 15” many students gain during their first year of university. But it turns out that number may actually be too low.

According to the American Psychological Association’s annual “Stress in America” report, 40% of Americans have gained unwanted weight during the pandemic, with the average gain being a whopping 29 pounds (50% of those who reported undesired weight gain said they had gained more than 15 pounds, and 10% said they had gained more than 50 pounds).

Is it any wonder many of us are tipping the scales? We’ve been stuck at home for well over a year, with few opportunities to socialize, our schedules are off, gyms are closed and cooking and baking are among the few activities keeping us occupied.

Consider that the hashtag #stressbaking has 53,000 posts on Instagram.

The pandemic has us worried, bored, lonely, sad and stressed—all factors that can make us turn to food for comfort.

Because these unsettling emotions can be difficult to deal with, it’s tempting to seek out things to make ourselves feel better. That might be an extra glass or two of wine at night, too many Netflix shows, excessive online shopping — or repeatedly staring into the fridge or pantry for something yummy to eat.

As we reported in our last post, children are also gaining extra weight during the pandemic, due to missing physical education classes thanks to school closures, a lack of after-school sports activities and even just playing outside with friends. Studies show screen time for kids has doubled during the pandemic. 

Even our pets are getting heavier. The Wall Street Journal reported that the largest chain of vet practices in the U.S. conducted a survey that revealed 42% of pet dogs and cats had gained weight during the pandemic. 

Extra pounds aren’t easy to lose—for adults, children or pets—and they are cause for concern since significant weight gain poses long-term health risks. Just adding an extra 11 pounds can put you at higher risk of developing coronary heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. An extra 25 pounds put you at higher risk of stroke. 

So what can you do to get a handle on pandemic weight gain? Here are a some tips to consider:

  1. Think before you eat: Ask yourself if you are actually hungry. Maybe you are just bored—or thirsty. 
  2. Keep a food diary: Write down what you eat and see if there’s a connection between food and mood
  3. Keep it on the regular: Schedule your mealtimes. 
  4. Avoid after-dinner snacking. Shut off the TV and go to bed earlier with a good book. 
  5. Healthy food choices begin in the grocery store: If you don’t bring junk food home you won’t have it on hand when you get a hankering for something unhealthy.
  6. Allow yourself an occasional “treat” so you don’t feel too deprived. Keep healthier snacks on hand, such as fresh fruit, veggies and low-fat dip, nuts and popcorn.
  7. Distract yourself with a stress-relieving activity, such as listening to your favourite tunes, connecting with a friend, going for a walk or stretching. 
  8. Don’t’ drink your calories: Nearly 25% of respondents in the Stress in America report said they are drinking more alcohol to cope with stress amid the pandemic.  
  9. Make mealtime a pleasant event: If you can, eat with someone in person (or by FaceTime or Zoom) rather than chowing down alone in front of the tube.
  10. Eat mindfully: Allow yourself to fully enjoy your food. Focus on what you are eating and eat slowly, being sure to savour every single bite.