Did you pack on pandemic pounds? You’re not alone.

COVID-19 fueled stress-related unhealthy eating habits that have resulted in expanded waistlines for almost half of North Americans.

Forty-eight percent of Americans packed on extra unwanted pounds during the pandemic (the average weight gain was 29 pounds) while 42% of Canadians gained an average of 6-15 pounds.

This doesn’t come as a big surprise when you consider diets, activity levels, sleep habits, and daily routines were turned upside down by the pandemic

The study on American weight gain found those who gained the most were more likely to be male, married, 45 or older with a full-time job. It also found that people were more likely to have gained weight if they were overweight before the pandemic and/or had depression.

“Even before the pandemic, stress was a major determinant of unhealthy lifestyles in adult Americans, and the problem continues to worsen for certain groups,” said study lead Jagdish Khubchandani, a public health professor at New Mexico State University. 

Children gained excess weight as well, due to disrupted routines, increased stress and less opportunity for physical activity and good nutrition.  

A study by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention found that the percentage of obese children and teens increased to 22% during COVID. 

It’s natural to experience self-recrimination and self-blame about the changes in one’s weight and to be affected by societal stigma around being overweight. But it’s important to remember pandemic weight gain has affected a huge percentage of the population and self-compassion is in order.  

For those who want to lose weight, action is in order as well. Here are 5 steps you can take to try to bounce back after COVID-19, so you begin to feel — and look — more like your old self:

  1. Set small goals: Consider modest steps you can take that will lead to success. Perhaps eliminate cream from your daily coffee or forgo dessert during the week.  Go for a short walk every night after dinner or lift weights at the gym just once or twice a week. Small daily changes can add up to a positive effect on overall health.
  1. Try something new: Create a new healthy routine for yourself — perhaps go to bed an hour earlier at night, or take up bike riding or pickleball. Team up with a buddy for regular exercise. Try out some healthy new recipes. Shaking things up can help you shed the pounds.
  1. Do a kitchen purge: If junk food is accessible, you are likely to eat it. Set yourself up for success by replacing foods such as chips, sweets and processed foods with healthier options that are easy to grab when hunger strikes — a banana with almond butter or baby carrots and hummus, for example.
  1. Monitor your progress: Use digital apps to track your food intake and physical activity or write down the details with old fashioned pen and paper. Studies show that self-monitoring is associated with higher rates of weight loss and with maintaining weight loss over time.
  1. Get the whole family involved: Everyone can benefit from embracing habits that lead to healthy weight, including good nutrition, regular activity, getting enough sleep and reducing screen time. Involve children and teens in  the decision-making process when making food and exercise choices for the family.