Has the expression “pandemic pounds” come up in conversation recently? It’s an official thing now. Pandemic pounds have claimed their rightful place alongside the freshman fifteen, baby bump, and other phenomena of the physique. A recent survey conducted by OnePoll for the well-known weight loss company Nutrisystem found that 76% of 2000 respondents reported weight gains as high as 16 pounds since the onset of the pandemic. The same study revealed that this year, achieving a “post-pandemic body” eclipsed getting in shape for summer as a health, fitness, and cosmetic goal for respondents, with 63% saying they are focusing more now on improving their diets and staying fit.
But maybe I don’t need to tell you about pandemic pounds. Perhaps you’ve seen them sneak up your own frequently-pajama-clad body—and on your friends— and, like so many others, you want to chart a course in the reverse direction. If so, we’ve got a three-step plan to share with you that can put you on track to meeting your health and fitness goals. It’s not all about eating. And it isn’t even all about your physical health. It’s about feeling better mentally, too, and helping you achieve your life goals while simultaneously addressing your health concerns. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms are far more common now that we are living through a pandemic. If you’re going through the stress of a divorce on top of stressors related to COVID-19, you’re even more susceptible to mental health challenges, which can certainly affect how we eat and how active we are.
Tips on Staying Fit During Divorce and COVID-19
Step One: Make Moving a Priority
If weight loss is a priority for you, there’s one simple fact to keep in mind. The only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you take in. That leaves you a choice. Eat less, burn more, or combine the two strategies.
Have your exercise routines fallen by the wayside since the pandemic reached the US?
That’s entirely understandable. Fitness clubs were closed for a long time. Stay-at-home orders were the norm in many communities. You may not feel safe returning to the gym yet. We all know how hard it is to get motivated to start exercising again after you’ve taken a hiatus. And the arrival of cold weather in many parts of the country is about to deliver part three of a triple whammy.
But exercising at home has become easier, too. The variety of home fitness equipment on the market has grown wider—and more affordable—in recent years. While the best home treadmills, for example, might cost a couple of thousand dollars, there are also models available in the $200 range that are lightweight and fold compactly for easy storage. Products that support weight lifting and resistance training also abound. But here’s an on-the-cheap tip: you can use a couple of gallon jugs of water in the absence of dumbbells. Each one weighs around eight pounds.
Working on staying fit during divorce, but running and weight training not your thing? You might want to learn to practice yoga. Unlike many forms of exercise, yoga is something a vast majority of people can do, including the disabled and chronic disease sufferers. There are countless YouTube videos online designed for beginner yogis. And the only piece of equipment you might want to buy to get started is a yoga mat. A nice, big towel will do, too.
A large body of research demonstrates that nearly every form of exercise has a positive effect on mood. But yoga, which is considered a form of both mental and physical conditioning, may be even more effective than other forms of exercise in improving your spirit. We can all use a little bit more of that now, can’t we?
Speaking of mood-boosters, the global pandemic has engendered a sharp increase in the number of people adopting dogs. Dogs not only keep you company when you’re home-bound and socially distancing, they get you outdoors and walking. And because dog-walking is a caretaking activity, it’s more motivating than walking alone.
No matter what type of exercise you decide to do, setting a consistent time for doing it each day has been demonstrated to improve commitment and follow-through. Many experts also recommend keeping a fitness journal and tracking your progress as a motivational tool.
Step Two: Harness Technology to Stay Fit
Nowadays, there are other ways to track your progress. You’ve probably already noticed the step counter on your smartphone. But if you’re interested in stepping up from there, you might invest in a wearable fitness tracker. Fitness trackers measure all kinds of things. Depending on the type of exercise you prefer, you may want to choose one that includes an altimeter (for hikers), a resistance sensor (for weight lifters) or a waterproof model (for beach strollers and swimmers.) Fitness trackers come in wrist, pin-on, and ring-style models at a wide range of prices. But the best fitness tracker for you is going to be the one you wear consistently. Comfort is key. Order a couple of returnable models online, try them one, and decide which one you’re most likely to wear before committing. A fitness tracker that languishes on your bathroom vanity won’t do you much good.
Fitness trackers aren’t the only way to go electronic. The Google and Apple stores are chock full of mobile fitness apps. Some are diet-related and others focus on exercise. (Remember you need to look at both to lose those pandemic pounds!) Many apps are free to download. Some feature your favorite fitness gurus. And each offers its own way of helping you take charge of your health.
Step Three: Pay Attention to What You’re Thinking
The pandemic has taken its toll on our country’s mental health, and if you’re going through divorce, it can be even more difficult to deal with. Not surprisingly, fear for our own and our family’s safety tops the list of reasons why Americans are feeling stressed and depressed, but financial concerns, boredom, and concerns about the breakdown of society are also driving the pandemic malaise.
Between April 2019 and April 2020, texts to the federal government’s disaster stress hotline increased by 1000%. Back in March of this year, when Americans were beginning to understand the severity of the pandemic, alcohol sales increased by 55% in a single week. More people than ever before are seeking mental health services using various modes of online therapy.
Therapists are trained to help patients manage mental health symptoms, of course. But one of the chief ways they do that is by helping patients manage their own symptoms by changing the way they think. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is widely accepted as the most effective therapeutic approach to managing anxiety, depression, and other conditions, is based on the premise that by recognizing and interrupting inaccurate and destructive thought patterns, we can control our symptoms and set ourselves up for vanquishing our mental health problems entirely. It’s a rational process that has emotional results. And you don’t necessarily need a therapist to reap the benefits of CBT. You can read up on it online. Many websites offer worksheets and other resources to help you change your thinking patterns, learn new coping skills, and guide through the CBT self-help process.
One of the best ways you can use CBT right now is to excise those thoughts that keep you from being active, controlling your diet, and meeting your fitness goals. You know the ones we’re talking about. “I’m so uncoordinated.” “I’ll never reach my ideal weight.” “I’m too depressed o start today.” CBT can teach you to recognize self-sabotaging thoughts in the moment and allow you to access the most powerful fitness tool you have at your disposal—your mind. No gym, weight bench, or app required.
Staying fit during divorce and COVID-19 can be difficult, but with these types, you can get there!
Susan Doktor is a journalist, business strategist, and mile swimmer who hails from New York City. She writes on a wide variety of topics, including nutrition and fitness, technology, and mental health.