I have to admit that the title is a head fake. There are no studies that I’m aware of that suggests that catching the coronavirus may lead to weight gain. However, I will make a strong argument that for many people, it can promote weight gain indirectly through these 5 possible scenarios:
- Altered Eating Patterns
Sheltering in place definitely changed everyone’s eating habits, timing, as well as food quality. There’s no doubt that many more people have to order their meals, which in general tends to be less healthy. Even if you wanted to cook more often at home, everything has changed. Grocery shopping can be an ordeal, with long lines, empty store inventories, and stressful environments. This change in your cooking/eating/purchasing patterns is sure to alter what you eat, when you eat, as well as how much you eat. Watching more online movies at night can also promote snacking later into the evening times. This goes against my most important health recommendation to improve sleep—don’t eat or snack within 3-4 hours of bedtime.
- Altered Exercise Patterns
For those of you who rely on regular gym facilities, your exercise patterns are severely disrupted. Many of you are resorting to online courses or live-streams, but it’s not the same as physically working out at the gym with others or even on your own. It’s likely that the duration or intensity of your exercise routine is now much lower. This can contribute to challenges in losing weight.
- Altered Sleep Patterns
Although you may think that you have more time to sleep due to the shelter in place regulations, it’s not necessarily true. Many people are watching more movies or television programs. Oftentimes, it can go later into the night, leading to sleep deprivation. Furthermore, whether you watch on your widescreen TV or computer, extra blue lights from the LED screen will lower an important sleep hormone, melatonin. This will delay the time you want to fall asleep. As mentioned before, watching TV late at night is associated with snacking. It’s proven that lack of sleep significantly promotes weight gain.
- Less Sunlight/Lower Vitamin D
Even with the onset of spring and warmer temperatures, sheltering in place lessens time spent outdoors. This means less time for sun exposure, leading to lower levels of vitamin D. In general, most Americans have low levels of vitamin D, and what we ingest in our food supply is not nearly enough. A healthy gut biome (with optimal sleep and healthy diet) is needed for proper vitamin D absorption, as well as conversion to the active form of vitamin D that the body uses as a hormone throughout the body.
- Increased Stress
There are a number of different sources for stress in our current health crisis. From anxiety/fear/panic due to the unknowns to the loss of loved ones, friends or colleagues at work, these are truly terrifying times. For parents of younger children, being at home and needing to work online as well as to be a home school teacher can be extremely stressful. I’ve also mentioned in my book and this blog that unhealthy foods, lack of exercise, poor sleep, and lower melatonin and vitamin D levels can also increase your body’s stress hormones. Physiologic stress causes weight gain, and weight gain promotes obstructive sleep apnea.
I admit that there are some people who are taking advantage of the “pause” in our overworked lives. They take active steps to eat healthier, cook at home, exercise regularly, and focus on improving their mental, emotional, and spiritual states of health. But from what I’m seeing with the patients that I’m talking to through video office visits, the vast majority are sliding backwards.
Numerous famous authors, philosophers, and religious leaders have pointed out that during times of crisis, it is the best time to reprioritize our lives, our health, and our relationships. If you have been backsliding on your health goals or weight loss efforts, go down the 5 items described above and commit to making the changes that are needed to make 2020 an inflection point in your life.