Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have put on a few extra pounds. In fact, a survey by the American Psychological Association found that 42 percent of U.S. adults reported undesired weight gain since the start of the pandemic.
It’s not surprising, given disruptions of our daily lives that came along with the pandemic — including increased stress, changes in work routines and changes in eating and workout habits.
If you’re feeling motivated to develop healthy habits, that’s great. Just remember, as you work toward changing your eating or exercise routines, to take care of yourself in the process. It’s important for your physical and mental health to love the body you’re in. So go at your own pace and celebrate small victories along the way.
Small adjustments to our daily routine can lead to big changes, serving as building blocks for a healthier lifestyle.
With many of us spending more time at home during the pandemic — working at home and not going out to social events — it becomes easier to snack. After all, when you’re home, you’re where all the food is.
One simple way to build a better diet at home is to choose healthier foods to have around, and leave “trigger foods” behind. Do you crave cookies or salty potato chips? Leave those off the shopping list and don’t buy them on your next grocery run.
Transitioning to a healthier diet works best with a small goals approach. If you tell yourself, “I’m going to start eating healthier,” that’s too vague and you can’t mark it as a tangible, achievable goal. Instead, make it a goal to switch your afternoon snack from cookies to fruit or veggies. Or instead of getting a burger and fries for lunch, switch to a grilled chicken salad or lower-fat wrap.
Additionally, many of us started online grocery shopping during the pandemic, which is also a great way to save time and avoid impulse buying of foods we are vulnerable to. Online shopping makes us pre-plan purchases (so better meal planning) and helps to save money.
Let’s face it, especially over this past winter, many of us found ourselves more likely to binge-watch television than to exercise. Has your workout routine changed (or stopped) during the pandemic? If your gym closed or exercise classes got canceled, you might be left wondering how to get back into exercising.
It’s helpful to start with a plan, adding exercise to your calendar. On Sunday, take a look at the week ahead and write in two or three workouts you’re going to do. Exercising for an average of just 10 minutes, three times a day, reduces risk of combined stroke, heart attack, cancer and diabetes by 51 percent.
When making your exercise plan, think about activities you enjoy doing. Does riding bikes with your children sound like more fun than going for a run? Is a 30-minute walk more appealing than a trip to the gym? Choose exercise that’s fun for you, and you’ll find yourself looking forward to exercising, rather than dreading it.
Just as with changing your diet, going slow and taking measurable steps will have the most impact. You’ll be more likely to make actual behavioral changes if you set small, successive goals that are easier to achieve — these goals can act as building blocks for future success. Build up your exercise routine slowly, adding a little bit more each day, and eventually, you’ll get to a point where your success feeds on itself.
You’ve got this!
Remember, this isn’t an experience you’re going through alone. The phrase we often heard during the pandemic, “We’re all in this together,” applies here. Many of us are in the same boat.
Also keep in mind that, as you begin taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle, there will inevitably be ups and downs on your journey. Any time we’re trying to make positive change, it’s not a clear, linear and upward trajectory. Whether it’s diet, exercise or managing stress, there will always be setbacks along the way — remember to keep your focus on the long term, not just today. Go easy on yourself and remind yourself that even small progress is still progress.
Paul L. Klink, MD, specializes in weight management with Mount Nittany Physician Group. His philosophy of care when it comes to weight management involves “encouraging grace and self-forgiveness and kindness toward oneself."
This article originally appeared in State College Magazine.