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The Worst Way To Handle Pandemic Weight Gain, Says Doctor

This doctor breaks the stigma about "losing pandemic pounds" and offers healthier solutions.

If you noticed that you gained a little bit of weight during the pandemic, do not worry—you're not alone. According to a recent survey supervised by Google, around 38% of participants found that their eating habits had changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, some of them averaging 1,500 extra calories a day (which can add up to five pounds a month). If we were to apply this percentage to all Americans, that would mean an average of 100 million Americans also experienced changes to their eating habits over the past year—which could have easily resulted in some pandemic weight gain.

Naturally, some will say you need to diet in order to lose weight—probably because diet culture has been saying the same thing for years. Diet culture says the solution to weight gain is to restrict your eating and workout like crazy in order to drop the pounds. And yet, after these survey results came out, one doctor says the complete opposite—dieting does not work. Glenn Livingston, PhD and author of Never Binge Again, says the worst way to handle pandemic weight gain is to go on a diet.

"Many are planning to fix the problem by dieting their weight off when this is all over," says Dr. Livingston in a recent press release. "Unfortunately, using food to soothe trauma during the pandemic creates a strong link between emotions and overeating that may last long after COVID ends. Dieting after this experience can stress the individual and trigger the link, thereby creating even more overeating episodes."

Here's why going on a diet would be the worst way to handle pandemic weight gain, along with healthier solutions to take care of your body, straight from Dr. Livingston. And if you're looking for even more healthy tips, be sure to check out our list of The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.

Understand your eating "triggers."


Living through the COVID-19 pandemic was a stressful time, and it can be easy to turn to comfort foods in order to soothe worried emotions. Why is that? UT Southwestern Medical Center published a study showing how our "hunger hormone" ghrelin is released in stressful situations, meaning we can feel emotionally hungry when we're stressed out. Meanwhile, the Journal of Consumer Psychology published another study showing how those comforting "indulgent" foods can help alleviate a bad mood.

If you were reaching for your favorite snacks during the pandemic or cooking up some of grandma's classic comfort foods (which another study shows can be a reaction in stressful times), the reaction was a natural one.

Understanding your emotional eating triggers is the first step into making healthier choices, according to Dr. Livingston.

"To correct for COVID-19 overeating, don't diet right away, instead focus first on modifying the overeating behavior," says Dr. Livingston. "Working with over 1,000 binge-eating clients has taught me even if you're bingeing every day, you can quickly retrain yourself to experience those negative emotions without the urge to overeat."

Here are 5 Ways to Quit Emotional Eating for Good.

Choose times for meals that work for you.

healthy salad
Anh Nguyen/ Unsplash

How many times have you reached for a snack bag when you're stressed? As we explained, it can easily happen if your hunger hormone is flipped on. But what if your body isn't even hungry for it?

Dr. Livingston suggests shifting from that "eat on a whim" model and instead, focus on a "eat and snack by design" structure.

Take a few days to evaluate the times you feel hungry. When is the best time to eat your three square meals? Do you need a snack between lunch and dinner? Is there a time you crave something sweet where you can incorporate a healthy dessert or a small bar of dark chocolate?

Having structured times for meals can make it easier to say no to those overeating practices, because your body will fall into a rhythm that works for you, rather than eating whenever you feel like it.

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Stock up your kitchen with healthy food.

Fruit bowl

Diet culture tells you to restrict your eating. Dr. Livingston says you should eat all of your favorite healthy foods.

In fact, he even suggests you "overstock" your kitchen with healthy food, that way you always have something on hand that's delicious and nutritious to eat.

The easiest way to make this happen is to look for healthy non-perishable items that you can turn to in a pinch. Frozen produce will last longer than fresh (but you should still get fresh produce if you love it), whole-grain products, beans, legumes, cans of fish and vegetables, lentil- or chickpea-based pasta, healthy frozen dinners, can all fit into a healthy diet.

Here are 20 Healthy Pantry Staples That Belong in Every Kitchen.

When it's time for a meal, use this formula.

healthy plate

One of the easiest ways to ensure you are always eating a nutritious meal is to follow the USDA MyPlate Guidelines, straight from the Dietary Guidelines from Americans. This formula breaks down the exact way you should set your plate every time you sit down for a meal.

The guidelines tell you to set half your plate with vegetables and/or fruit, a quarter of your plate with a lean protein, and a quarter of your plate with a fiber-rich carb or whole-grain. Incorporating some dairy every now and then, as well as some healthy fats (like olive oil, or avocado) will ensure that you are getting all of the nutrients you need.

So…will this help with your pandemic weight gain? Clearly, Dr. Livingston's suggestions are not a crash diet, and they don't come with some kind of ultimatum. Nevertheless, these tips will help you create healthier eating habits for the long term that will help you tear away from any emotional eating practices you may have picked up during the pandemic. And according to numerous health professionals, following these types of practices will result in some weight loss and help you to live a long and happy life.

Here are 17 Healthy Eating Habits To Start Today, According To Our Medical Experts.

Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a freelance health and nutrition journalist. Read more about Kiersten
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