By Mimi Secor, DNP, FNP-BC, FAANP, FAAN
The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging in so many ways. Unfortunately, the stress of the pandemic has caused many Americans to gain weight over the past 16-18 months and now are realizing that it is time to shed those pounds.
According to one national survey, 61% of Americans say they gained weight during the pandemic. Another study of 269 people in quarantine reported a 2-pound weight gain per month, for a total of 20 pounds over the course of a year.
Obesity is a common, serious and costly chronic disease. Rates of obesity and overweight were increasing even before the pandemic. According to the CDC, it is currently estimated that 43% of the adult population are obese and approximately 74% are overweight (CDC.gov). A new report estimates that by 2030 approximately 50% of Americans will be obese (Ward et al., 2019).
These statistics are very concerning, because obesity and overweight are serious public health problems associated with many negative health consequences, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, various cancers, orthopedic and mental health challenges. (Jensen et al., 2014; National Institute of Health National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NIH NHLI),1999; CDC.gov). These are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death.
Speaking of prevention, lifestyle changes — like adopting healthy eating and exercise habits — have been found to reduce risk of illness and death and improve your short- and long-term health. Additional health benefits include weight loss, greater strength, less risk of mental health challenges and an improved sense of well-being and confidence.
Consider making healthy lifestyle changes as a family. There is nothing more powerful than being a healthy role model for your family!
To start, focus on simple, easy changes. Think: healthy diet and adequate water intake, exercise (do things you enjoy), sleep (ideally seven to eight hours daily), positive mindset and environment (home, work, restaurants, people). For your nutritional plan, choose less processed, whole foods you enjoy. Think, “Whole foods for the whole family.” These include lean protein, green vegetables, small amounts of fresh fruits and healthy fats, like nuts, avocado and olive oil. Remember, a little goes a long way when it comes to fruits and fats.
Exercise plays an essential role in the prevention of obesity, initial weight loss and maintenance of weight loss. So, get moving as a family. Enjoy outdoor exercise– such as walking, biking, hiking, yard games, badminton, basketball, baseball or playing catch. Exercise doesn’t have to involve working out at a gym.
Addressing mindset is also important, because having a positive attitude and self-image are essential to short- and long-term success in achieving your health and fitness goals. Mindfulness activities such as meditation, journaling and listening to music can help shift our mindsets from negative to positive with very little investment of time.
Consistently adopting healthy habits often leads to big changes and progress over time. For example, one person who committed to similar lifestyle changes lost 100 pounds over a year by eating healthily and exercising regularly (her favorite activity is bicycling). She is enjoying her new life and is so proud to finally be a healthy role model.
If you are ready to get healthy and shed those pandemic pounds, consider seeing a nurse practitioner or other health care provider, who can help you jumpstart your health and be a partner with you on your health and fitness journey.