So 2020 has been a ride, huh? Comfort food recipes are trending on Google, you haven’t worn pants without a drawstring since March, and workouts look more like laying on the living room floor and forcing ourselves to go through a yoga video on Youtube. The most thrilling part of the past six months was perfecting a banana bread recipe or when the new season of Selling Sunset came out, and you’ve totally ditched your Fitbit because it’s way too judgmental RN (the only steps we’re getting in is to and from the kitchen, so that 10,000 step goal is pretty much a distant memory). It’s no surprise that “Quarantine 15” is a trending phrase and weight loss is a trending topic these days.
As a health coach, I’ve found that many clients will feel uncomfortable saying they’d like to lose weight, as if it’s materialistic or wrong. On the flip side, other women feel like they’re supposed to want to lose weight, even if they feel great as they are, because weight loss and diet culture are so normalized. So here’s my preface: instead of shaming yourself for whatever goal you do or don’t have, listen to your body, respect other women’s health goals, and know that what makes you feel good in your body is going to be different than anyone else.
Now that we have that out of the way, if weight loss is your goal after gaining weight in quarantine, here are 11 small changes you can make to help you feel like your best, healthiest self (yes, even after doing nothing but watching reruns of The Office on your couch for the past six months):
1. First of all… chill out.
Weight gain does not mean anything besides just that: you gained weight. It doesn’t mean you’re less attractive, strong, or lovable. It simply means the entire world is going through a very scary time. Your routine and any sense of normalcy have changed, and it’s only normal for your body to change with it. Stress over weight gain is just as bad for your body as pandemic-induced anxiety, so don’t feel guilt or shame. Instead, know that your body is doing what it’s supposed to. If you want to lose weight because you feel less connected to your body and just overall less healthy, then I commend you for knowing your body well enough to identify what it needs. But prioritize losing the shame around weight gain over losing the weight.
2. Don’t ignore cravings. Instead, find healthier alternatives.
Cravings are not mistakes or punishments, and they’re not there to sabotage your weight loss or health goals. Cravings are actually one of the ways our bodies try to communicate with us what they need. Plus, if we have a major craving for delicious fajitas and force ourselves to eat another boring salad instead, it can lead to bingeing, restrictive eating, and an unhealthy relationship with food. Now that will sabotage your health goals.
Instead, find alternatives with nutritious whole foods to nourish your body. For example, if you have a sweet tooth, grab a square of dark chocolate after dinner. If you’re craving chips or fries, DIY sweet potato fries by tossing sweet potato slivers with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and baking them in the oven. If heavy comfort foods are more your medicine of choice, score a frozen cauliflower crust from Trader Joe’s to top with tomato sauce and organic cheese, or try chickpea pasta or spaghetti squash. For any other craving, check out these recipes to find a healthier alternative.
3. Take a work break with movement instead of an Instagram scroll
You know those moments when you mindlessly reach for your phone to scroll through Instagram or Tiktok after finishing a major task you’ve been working on for hours? Either your brain needs a break, or you need a few minutes “off” to transition into the next task. Instead of reaching for your phone, get up, and move. Do some stretching, go through a yoga flow, or do ten jumping jacks to get blood flowing. Not only will movement help you refocus and reenergize better than an Instagram scroll ever would, but it’s also an easy way to fit in more movement and motivate yourself to make better choices for the rest of the day.
4. Drink more water
Drinking more water is a tale as old as time, but there’s a reason it’s the most basic, universal health hack in the book. For me, drinking a big glass of water first thing when waking up, sipping on a reusable straw throughout the day (I’m partial to these pretty gold ones), and having three drinks at a time to achieve optimal hydration (like lemon water and green juice with my coffee), has made a drastic difference in how my body feels. If I get hungry soon after eating, I drink a big glass of water rather than going straight to the pantry to mindlessly snack (more on that below!). Of course, if I’m still hungry afterward, I’ll eat something nourishing (the body knows what it needs), but I’ve also learned that a lot of hunger cues are actually thirst. Try drinking even more water every day and just watch how much better your body feels.
5. Go on a walk every day
Intense workout plans don’t always help us achieve health goals because they’re hard to keep up. You might run out of time to fit in a workout and forego exercise altogether that day, and we will all likely have days (or weeks) where we feel too tired to even start a 60-minute HIIT workout. Instead, shift your focus to living less sedentary and moving more often. Whether workouts are a part of your daily routine or you haven’t worked out since your gym was open in spring, make it a goal to go on walks every day. Take your dog for a walk in the morning, go on a walk while listening to a podcast on a work break, or grab your significant other for a stroll in the evening.
6. Every time you snack, ask yourself why
Back to the cravings: yes, they can tell us what our bodies need, but it’s not always about food. More often than not, whenever we mindlessly snack or crave (like snacking while working or watching TV), it’s because our bodies are lacking something else, whether it’s a break, excitement, comfort, or joy. Every time you subconsciously reach for the bag of chips or Cheez-Its, ask yourself if you’re hungry or not. If you are, then great! You’re listening to your body’s cues. Proceed with the snack, or make a snack that might feel more fulfilling and satisfying.
If you’re not hungry, ask yourself what void your body is trying to fill. Are you stressed and your body’s telling you to take a break from work, or are you looking for a way to comfort yourself because you’ve been feeling extra anxious lately? Maybe it’s the lack of anything exciting to look forward to, so you’re supplementing with cheesy, delicious snacks that don’t really fill the void. If you identify it is emotional snacking, try to feed your body in other ways: take a work break and go for a walk, plan a fun movie night with your roommate, or just give yourself a little extra love.
7. Stop weighing yourself
You’ll see the most drastic changes when you enjoy healthy habits for both the mind and body, rather than thinking you have to do them for weight loss. You’ll stop hating yourself when the scale isn’t moving quickly enough, and will naturally look, feel, and be better. This is not woo-hoo self-help advice; being healthy for benefits like mental health and energy is what made the most drastic changes in my body (oh, and it was actually sustainable). When you’re focused on a number on the scale, you naturally feel more stressed, restricted, and disappointed. Instead, focus on how you feel to measure where you are, instead of relying on an objective number to tell you how you’re supposed to feel.
8. Turn workouts into a social activity
One of the most common sources of stress during this time is that we lack connection. Happy hours are restricted to Zoom, you gossip with your work wife over Slack instead of over lattes, and you run away from people at the grocery store who get too close–it’s against our nature as human beings to be so unconnected, leading to stress and anxiety. Kill two birds with one stone by turning workouts into social activities. Not only will you feel happier with more social connection, but you’re more likely to work out since you’ll have a friend to hold you accountable. Try going on socially-distanced hikes, doing group workouts with your quarantine crew, or meeting up with your sister to go through a workout series together.
9. Eat more vegetables with every meal
In my humble opinion, one of the most effective changes you could make is learning about foods and the effects they have on the body. When you’re aware of the nutrients and benefits that come from whole foods, you start to see them as medicine and fuel, rather than in categories of “good” or “bad” foods that you’re either supposed to eat or not supposed to eat (and just like bad boys and the cookie jar, we want it more when it’s off-limits).
Focusing on eating more vegetables can not only help you feel your best and crave fruits and vegetables, but it can also subconsciously crowd out processed and sugary foods (totally guilt-free). Do you typically have eggs for breakfast? No need to shift what you’re used to or enjoy. Instead, add some spinach to an omelet or put some avocado on top. Do you eat pasta on the regular? Throw in some kale and asparagus, and you’ll never feel deprived, while simultaneously giving your body nutrients that keep it healthy.
10. Invest in your health
There’s a reason pricey programs work (if only temporarily): when people invest money into it, they’re more likely to stay motivated and on track. If you decided at the beginning of quarantine to workout with Youtube videos or some yoga flows on your own and find yourself never making time for exercise, it might be because you don’t have anything on the line. Try investing in an online subscription, a new pair of leggings, or a pretty yoga mat or pair of dumbbells. Likewise, invest in healthy produce. Because fresh produce goes bad much quicker than a box of mac n’ cheese or a frozen pizza, you’re more likely to go for a meal incorporating the fruits and veggies, if for no other reason than you don’t want your money to go to waste. There’s nothing more worthy of time and money than your most energetic, happiest, healthiest self, so start prioritizing it.
11. Ask yourself the “why”
You already know that setting goals are important when it comes to your health. Health goals are commonly to “lose weight,” “work out more,” or “eat cleaner,” and while these are all fine health goals, they don’t really mean anything. Ask yourself why you want to reach that goal. Why do you want to lose weight? Is it to feel more confident, to feel less sluggish, or to heal symptoms? Not only will reflecting on the “why” behind your goals be so much more motivating to keep in mind throughout the process than weight loss could ever be, but you’ll be able to assess whether or not you actually want your goals.
If your goal is to be more confident, will losing weight truly help? And even if you know it would, what other things can you work on while simultaneously trying to lose weight to help reach that goal? Shift your goal from feeling good about your body to feel good in your body. You’ll realize that what you actually want is a holistic process that isn’t just about your diet or how much you’re exercising, but about how much joy you’re feeling.