• Jessica Kilinski

It's time to normalize the "Quarantine 15"

[Note: this article contains language about weight gain and weight control]

It's no secret that we've all been dealing with extra stress over the last year. Between the pandemic, police brutality, natural disasters, and threats to our democracy, it's been one stressor after the other -- and that doesn't include the everyday stressors. Your toddler screaming at the dinner table, the dishes that never seem to end, the overflowing e-mail inbox...

Along with your extra stress, you might be noticing some extra weight in places you didn't before. You put on jeans for the first time in a year and they won't button. Or, maybe you've noticed it in a friend. There are plenty of memes going around talking about the "Quarantine 15" -- people are struggling with weight gain.

I'm not here to tell you to get to work, buy my services, tell your friend, etc.

Instead, I want to normalize this experience.

Stress affects several areas of your body that help with weight control. Not only that, but there's a feedback loop involved -- each system affected will affect another.

Your brain will be affected. Your reasoning and planning skills won't be as sharp, you'll lose the ability to focus, and you'll struggle to regulate your emotions. Planning and preparing ahead will feel more challenging and decision-making skills go out the window. If you're an emotional eater, you'll be more likely to reach for food to take care of those tough feelings.

Stress affects your eating, activity, and sleep behaviors, which all affect each other. If your stress is leading to insomnia, you'll be more likely to eat more and move less. If you're moving less, your sleep can be disrupted. Around and around we go.

Stress releases stress hormones, like cortisol. These hormones will make you want to eat more and they'll also tell your body to store more fat, especially in the belly.

Because stress makes you feel crummy, you'll be more likely to seek out that feel-good hormone: dopamine. Do you know what gets that dopamine going? Processed food, sugar and fat combos, alcohol, drugs, scrolling for hours on social media...

Stress can also affect some chemicals in our bodies that regulate hunger and appetite, making you feel like a bottomless pit.

And here's another kicker -- weight stigma can lead to stress. That means someone who is obese or dealing with extra weight gain might be feeling extra stress because of that. So you can see how this circle can go round and round...

That's why I want to help normalize this process of weight gain during stressful times. We can't always control the number of stressors thrown at us -- particularly people who are facing discrimination.

So, what can we do?

Remember: not all stress is under our control, which also means we can't always control our weight. Try to keep this in mind next time you notice some judgmental thoughts coming up -- whether those are about yourself or someone else.

Control what you can. Remove or reduce any stressors that you have control over. Ask for help. Let go of the need to control what you can't. Add relaxing activities to your day to help your body recover from stress.

Also, make sure your nutrition and exercise plan isn't adding to your stress. It's okay to back things down a little during these times, but don't quit taking care of your body. Think of it as a dial -- you can dial it up when life is good, and dial it down (but not off!) when things are tough.

If stress is overwhelming or you notice it consuming your thoughts, reach out to a professional for help. You can find someone in your area by clicking here.

Reference: Precision Nutrition, Stress and obesity: A nasty power couple (2021, January), PN Academy Research Insider, Issue 6

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