It is difficult to maintain a healthy weight in a normal year, but when we’re faced with stay-at-home restrictions, tasty bread-making videos, and working from home, losing weight can be a serious challenge. For many American’s, COVID-19 quarantines led to the “COVID 15,” a popular social media phrase referring to the weight gained during the pandemic. According to the American Psychological Association (APA) in February 2021, 42 percent of United States adults experienced undesired weight gain. These weight changes could be a result of changing routines, gym closures, new sleep habits, stress eating, altered diets, and even activity levels. No matter the cause, there are healthy ways to lose weight gained during the pandemic and maintain an active and fulfilling lifestyle.
“We’ve all realized in the last 18 months that life can just turn on a dime, overnight essentially. You can make a lot of positive changes if you really believe in yourself and have people who also believe you can do it,” said Dr. Sarita Golikeri of TPMG Williamsburg Geriatrics & Lifestyle Medicine, board certified in family medicine, geriatric medicine, and culinary medicine and obesity medicine.
Most people assume weight loss is just a calorie-in, calorie-out process with an eat-less, move-more mentality, however, there are a whole host of other variables that can influence your ability to lose weight. For instance, what you are eating matters just as much as how much. Maintaining a healthy weight is heavily influenced by your habits. Many people make changes for weight loss as a temporary measure: losing weight for a wedding or vacation. Shifting focus from the temporary to the permanent will help you make lasting weight changes and may prevent you from developing harmful diseases related to obesity such as hypertension or hyperlipidemia or diabetes.
One component of weight loss is your nutrition. I dislike using the word diet, as it implies temporary gratification as opposed to lifelong changes. Vegetables are vastly under-eaten in this country. People should be eating upwards of five servings of vegetables a day, while most only get one or two and often none. If you are having difficulty making sure your meals are well balanced, try breaking down your “plate.” The bottom half should contain fruits and vegetables and the top quarters of the plate should have a lean protein and a whole grain. Not every meal needs to be divided into four parts, but this “plate” is a template of what your meals should start looking like day-to-day. Oftentimes, dinner and lunch are balanced, but breakfast might be missing a fruit or vegetable. Find ways to incorporate a balanced plate for every meal, whether that means some vegetables in your omelet or a banana in your oatmeal. Often people assume healthier meals are bland and not as filling as their unhealthy counterparts, but there are lots of ways to make healthy, delicious, flavorful foods every day. These include using flavor components such as citrus, spices and herbs to make foods taste delicious. These elements pack a punch and have very few to no added calories.
People often become addicted to hyper-palatable, high-density foods that are high in calories. Foods like mac and cheese or chips are extremely addictive, usually because of their fat and sugar content, and tendency to be eaten very easily and quickly. It is often much easier to inhale a can of Pringles than it would be to snack on a bowl of broccoli or peppers. Choosing foods that take time to prepare and eat, such as fruits and vegetables, can cut down on mindless eating.
You expend more energy and time eating foods like this, but also have the opportunity to eat mindfully and slow down. Eating mindfully can give your body a chance to fill up with healthier more nutritious food that have fewer calories.
A second component involved in weight loss is exercise. However, exercise is vastly overestimated as a weight loss tool. Many people believe that exercise can help you overcome a poor diet. This is not true. Exercise is important for every aspect of health including helping your mood, managing blood sugars, preventing hypertension. However, as a weight loss tool it will never trump excellent nutrition. It becomes a far more important element with weight maintenance. It is still important to start this healthy habit wherever you are in your weight loss journey.
The third component to weight loss is often the most difficult. Behavioral changes are often very difficult to make and can frequently go hand in hand with nutrition. Changing your habits doesn’t mean you’re shifting your entire lifestyle. Small behavioral changes as simple as cutting soda down to one can a day and drinking water in between, are excellent ways to start making your routine healthier and will often result in more permanent weight loss results.
The fourth component to successful weight loss is accountability. Finding people who can put you on the correct path to weight loss and healthy living is imperative. Oftentimes those seeking to make changes like weight loss will only see their doctor once or twice a year. However, with regular follow-up from someone trained to help you reach your wellness goals, you might see different weight loss results. TPMG offers a number of weight loss programs including health coaching and the LeanMD program led by Dr. Golikeri. Having someone to keep you accountable on a weekly or even monthly basis is incredibly helpful when you’re trying to achieve health and wellness goals.
The last component for successful weight loss is medication. There is a lot of stigma associated with the use of medicine when it comes to losing weight. Some people might view it as a crutch or the easy way out. The truth is that there is nothing easy about weight loss, regardless of medication. Typically issues pertaining to weight are chronic and might result from progressive diseases. For those who struggle to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, some medications can be helpful for the weight loss journey. Oftentimes people associate weight loss with only willpower and it isn’t always something we can control on our own. Weight management is a medical issue and needs to be treated accordingly. For those who have struggled to lose weight or to keep off the weight, consider seeing an obesity specialist to look into what measures may be able to help.
While weight loss is not an easy process. When done with medical guidance can lead to a healthier, happier lifestyle.
“If weight loss is something you’ve been thinking about, we have a lot of tools to assist patients but you also have to find it in yourself to make those changes,” said Dr. Golikeri. “Once you make that decision, it’s not easy, but it becomes much more manageable.”
With COVID-19, the health risks associated with being overweight have increased, but losing weight doesn’t have to be a solitary process. If you’re interested in learning more about weight loss or ready to embark on your wellness journey, Dr. Golikeri is ready to assist you.
About Dr. Sarita Golikeri, MD, ABOM, CCMS
Certified Geriatric and Culinary Medicine Specialist, Sarita Golikeri, MD, ABOM, CCMS, seeks to prevent and manage chronic disease and promote healthy lifestyles through cooking. Her primary focus is weight management and nutrition. Dr. Golikeri treats patients for diabetes, hypertension, dementia, high cholesterol, asthma, and obesity. She believes it’s better to prevent problems than to treat them. Dr. Golikeri joined TPMG Colonial Family Medicine in 2014 and opened her own practice, TPMG Williamsburg Geriatrics and Lifestyle Medicine in 2019.