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Obesity and COVID – Coping in the New Normal

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At long last, vaccinations against COVID offer some hope of resuming our once daily routines. Who could have imagined that we would be so eager to get back to the dropping kids off at school, commuting to work or running into a store to pick up milk and something for dinner? What was once seemed mundane and monotonous has become “The Dream”!

Although hope is on the horizon, it will still be several months before enough of the population receives the vaccine to make it safe enough to consider becoming a mask-free, hustle-and-bustle society again. That means we must continue to deal with the stresses that came along with the pandemic for a bit longer. For the foreseeable future, we’ll still be working from home, maybe  with the whole family in each corner of the living room, or maybe alone with no actual contact with other for days at a time. Either way, it’s a challenge.

And then there’s the food. It’s virtually impossible to log on to a social media site without seeing someone’s latest attempt at sourdough bread of their take on traditional comfort foods. At the same time the gym and parks have closed so even if motivation were to strike, it would mean putting on the mask and changing into appropriate clothing for yet another loop around the neighborhood. In college it was called the “Freshman 15”, referring to the first year students gain as they cope with their new environment, freedoms and stress. Today it’s the “Quarantine 15”, and it’s very real.

In a survey of over 1,000 people, more than half said they gained weight as a result of COVID restrictions, and doctors confirm this, reporting that many patients have gained between three and 15 pounds during their stay at home. It’s not surprising. People are at home with food and snacks at their fingertips, exercising opportunities are limited, plus parents may need to watch children who are also stuck at home. To top it off, there is no lack of stress, not only about the pandemic itself, but the whole range of financial, emotional, psychological and social worries that go along with it. Eating can seem like the only “normal” thing remaining from a pre-COVID life.

All of this can have negative consequences, especially for people with obesity who already are at higher risk for contracting COVID and are three times more likely to be hospitalized and experience severe outcomes. There is a bright spot: current data indicates that the vaccine appears to be equally effective, “across the board, in every subgroup….”. This is good news and counters earlier speculation that, like some other vaccines, the COVID vaccine could leave people with obesity more vulnerable.

Certainly there are benefits from taking other individual actions, as well. Knowing there is an end in sight could be just motivation needed to get up and out of the house with a new perspective. Also, the holiday goodies should be just about gone, and many companies offer free meditation apps to help focus on something other than reality for a few minutes each day. Each small, change can have a positive impact, so take the first step.  And don’t forget to give yourself credit for it – you deserve it!

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