Avoiding weight gain during social distancing

Avoiding weight gain during social distancing

Avoiding weight gain during social distancing 150 150 OptiMum Health

Is it possible to avoid weight gain during social distancing?

At the time of recording & writing this, we are amidst severe movement restrictions due to the Covid-19, or Corona virus, outbreak and there are lots of pressures on everyone and maybe avoiding weight gain during social distancing isn’t something that’s our forefront of our minds.

But today I’m going to talk through five reasons why you may start to gain weight as a result of the restrictions we have on our movement during these times – and what you can do about them.

And you may be saying to yourself,

Lisa, I’ve just got bigger things on my plate right now. I’m worried about money, about work, about all these things – not about whether I’ll gain weight during social distancing“.

And that is really, really true.

But it’s also a time when we do really need to focus on our health perhaps more than ever.

If nothing else, maybe what we’ll learn from this whole situation is how important our health, including our thoughts about our health actually are.

And I’m hoping that in sharing these five things with you that you will be able to consciously be aware of perhaps certain behaviours that you start to do in the changing situation; and take action so that you can stay on top of feeling good for as long as possible.

If you’d prefer to watch or listen to me talk you through the 5 key points to avoid weight gain during social distancing measures, please click the video below.

Otherwise skip past it to continue reading.

5 reasons you may gain weight during social distancing & what to do about them.

  1. Moving less (which is not so NEAT)

So the first one maybe quite obvious, and it’s simply that as our movement is being restricted (& rightly so), we will be moving less generally throughout our day. If you are no longer traveling to work, even if you usually drove to work, you would have got out of the car, to walk into the office.   Maybe you walk up and down some stairs, maybe walk out at lunchtime.

And if you’re no longer traveling to work then the amount of movement that you do within the day may reduce as a result. And so what I would encourage you to do, whilst this goes on or at any other times where your movement is restricted for some reason, is to move as much as you possibly can.

This is what we refer to as NEAT.

It stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis.  And it’s the amount of movement that we do that’s not related to exercise.  So your general movement throughout the day from getting out of bed in the morning, going up and down the stairs, a walk into the toilet, all those different things, even fidgeting comes under the heading of NEAT and, particularly in times of duress, our movement can actually reduce down a lot.

You may be the other way.  Maybe if you’re feeling really worried, you may find yourself being really twitchy and fidgety and not able to sit still, in which case you may be naturally increasing your NEAT a little bit as well.  But think of ways that you can move more within every day.

Now this becomes particularly important for women who are in that transitional period on their way towards menopause and through the other side of it as well.

So most commonly, women in their forties, 50s and beyond because our body naturally starts to respond differently.  And even when we exercise, we move less intensely during that exercise.  So consciously thinking about moving more is a good thing.    This is especially so if you’re looking to avoid weight gain during social distancing periods – remember

  • cleaning your house,
  • dancing in your kitchen,
  • extra trips up and down the stairs,
  • walking round your garden,
  • online workouts

are all relatively easy options to keep you moving.

What can help?

To help with this, I’ve developed my Desk Break Movement Bites, which is a series of five short videos.  They are all less than 10 minutes, for you to do in front of your desk or in your living room, or wherever you are. You don’t need any equipment at all.  The videos are designed to get you on your feet, to get you a little bit out of breath and raise your heart rate slightly.

We know that actually when it comes to concentration span as humans, our concentration span is actually quite short and may only be about 14 minutes.  So if you are really looking to increase your productivity or your concentration span, then one of the things that can really help with that is movement and exercise. So finding ways to get up on your feet regularly will not only help you from a weight management point of view, but may actually help you to concentrate and stay focused better as well.

Why is energy balance important, especially to manage our weight during social distancing?

For us to maintain weight, the amount of energy that we take in through food and drink needs to be balanced, or equal to the amount of energy we use in our day through movement.

If we consume more energy, by eating and drinking, than we use, through day-to-day activities and exercise we gain weight.  If we consume less energy than we use, we lose weight.

The amount of energy we use, or “burn” is only one side of that seesaw – how much we eat and drink is on the other.

If we’re moving less, we can focus on moving more or on eating less.

So managing your portion sizes is another simple, but highly effective way to avoid gaining weight during social distancing.

2. Coping in a different environment

I don’t know about you but when I’m at home, I can hear the biscuit barrel calling.  When I started working from my home Studio at the start of 2019, this was something that caught me out.

Previously I was used to having a pack up lunch that I took to work every day and that was what I had available to eat along with any snacks that I packed.  I couldn’t then go off and and pick up something extra to eat.  I had what I took and that was it.

What I noticed when I was working from home all of the time whenever I went into the kitchen for a drink…I’d also get something to eat.  It was only when the bottom of the biscuit barrel became visible very quickly that I realised how my behaviour had changed.

It may well be that because you’ve got access to your own kitchen at home, that you’re naturally going and seeking out nibbles more than you would if you weren’t in that environment.  Try simple things like not having food visible on your work surfaces.  Choose what is prominently visible on your work surfaces and in your fridge too.

If the first thing you see is fruit or veg, you’ll make different choices.  It’s one of those things, if the eye can’t see it, the mind doesn’t want it as much.  But if it’s on show, then that becomes something that we really want.

Onne tip that I share with my clients particularly in nutritional coaching side of things is a very simple question you can ask yourself every time you reach for food or any particular calorific drink.

Am I hungry?

Sometimes the answer will be yes, in which case great eat enough to satisfy that hunger.

But if you’re not hungry, then think about actually what else could I do?

My tip sheet on “taking the eat out of treat” may really help you here if you often find you’re reaching for something to eat when you’re not actually hungry.

This leads into my next point….

3. Emotional Eating

At the time of writing, there are all sorts of changes happening and a feeling of anxiousness, of concern, a vulnerability perhaps of overall worry, and even being perhaps downright scared.  That can have a massive effect on our eating behaviours.

emotional eating effect on weight gain due to social distancing

You may be someone who completely loses your appetite when feeling stressed or worried.  Or you may be someone seeking solace in food and drink to help cope with all the emotions you’re feeling.

So if you’re sinking a bottle of wine every evening to cope with what you’re feeling at this time, or any other time in your life that’s a cause of concern or duress, then that will naturally start to help you to gain weight. (Remember alcoholic drinks do contain calories as well, unfortunately.)

Now this is something, again, I come across quite commonly when working with ladies in that perimenopause or post menopause period.

They think:

“I’m eating really healthily, I’m doing all the things I can, why is the weight going on?”

Sometimes it comes to those things you’re drinking: from the bottles of wine through to the lattes with syrups added and the like.

Those things that give you the feeling of a hug or a release are actually giving you more energy than your body is using at the current time.

Emotional eating has a whole module within my Online Nutrition course as it’s so multifaceted.  This may prove to be an area where you need more in-depth support to identify the root causes to allow you to understand, feel and manage the emotions you’re avoiding through food and drink.

But within my Online Nutrition course, I go through how to identify whether you are an emotional eater.  Let’s be honest here, we all are emotional eaters to some degree or another. We may go for a meal to celebrate when something fantastic happens or reach for that chocolate bar when we’ve had a bad day.

But if that’s happening regularly and actually we’re handling more of our emotions by choosing something to eat and drink, either to suppress those emotions or to cope with them, then that is the time to really think about what’s going on for you and seek support if you need it.

My online nutrition course talks you through different ways to not only identify where this is a factor for you, but to use very simple strategies to help you to move away from those emotional choices around food.

I mentioned the “am I hungry?” question above.  And that can be a great start.

Sometimes when you ask yourself this question, the answer may come back, “no, but I really want that!”

So your follow-up question may actually be “what am I feeling right now?”   And just to acknowledge the feelings that are behind that choice.

Often when I work with somebody, they’ve done this for years and years.  They’ve forgotten how it feels to experience the emotions that are behind that choice.  Now that is a big step and, it can make you feel very, very vulnerable.   So it’s really important that you’re supported with that if that’s something that’s relevant for you.

But just be aware, particularly in this time of big change that if you are making choices based on your concern, your anxiety, your worry, trying to suppress those feelings, then perhaps it’s a, a good time to think about what you CAN do instead.

And even just that simple sentence sums it up.

A lot of the time we feel like things have been taken away from us. Our focus naturally goes onto what we can no longer do.

Flip that around.

“What can you do right now?”

And actually there’s quite a lot you still can do.

You can focus on your health and you may have additional time that you didn’t otherwise have.  And that may help you to

  • finish projects in the house,
  • identify ways that you can support your health,
  • ask people for help as well.

So look at what you can do to help you to identify the positives in a seemingly negative situation.

4.  Sleep

How on earth can sleep affect whether you gain weight during social distancing?

Sleep actually has a major effect and science and research has shown us that somebody who is sleep deprived, even over a short period of time, has different hunger and satiety cues.

What that means is, if you’ve had a disrupted night’s sleep or you’re not sleeping well, you are going to feel more hungry the following day.

Not only will you feel more hungry, but when you’re eating it’s going to take you longer to notice when you’re feeling full.

The effect of both of those things is for you to eat more than you would normally and often to eat more than your body is using in that period of time as well.

Net effect of that is you gain weight.

How is this relevant to the current time?

Social distancing and the effects of what’s going on for COVID-19 is changing our routines.  We are at home much more. I’m saying to my children,

this is not the Easter holidays yet. This is not holiday time. We are going to stick to our routines including your bedtimes, including your waking up times

This has met resistance!

But I feel really, really strongly about this because of the major effect that sleep has for us as humans.

And so if you’re actually allowing your bedtime to drift a little bit later, then are you actually shortening the amount of sleep that you’re getting?

I’m talking about good quality sleep here as well, not drifting in and out of sleep.  On this point if you are watching the 10 o’clock news, getting the latest updates and then going to bed feeling really quite anxious and concerned, is that actually allowing you to drift off into a restful sleep?

The answer to that is probably no.

So think about the activities that you partake in, particularly in that hour before bedtime.  Maybe watching the news at that time of the night isn’t a good idea for you.

This is something that I took a personal decision to stop just over six years ago when my husband was deployed in Afghanistan and the news was really quite scary.  There was a lot of horrible stuff going on and so I just stopped watching the news because it was really affecting my ability to sleep.

I choose to read the news instead, it’s available online as well as newspapers.  And I choose to take in the news in a way that allows me to manage my response to it better.

This is really important for managing stress.  It’s not so much what’s going on, but managing your response to those things, both in terms of your behaviour around sleep but also on that previous point around emotional eating as well.

So doing your best to stick to your regular bedtime routine, your regular wake-up time and managing your activities before you go to bed so that you are more likely to have a restful night of good quality sleep will help manage your hunger levels and noticing when you are full more proactively.  This helps to manage your weight in the long term.

5.  Exercise doesn’t have to happen in a gym

So the final point that I’ve got for you, and you know, some of us will feel this more than others, particularly when gyms were closed and we no longer have access to those areas where we could go and work out.  Plus the sense of community & enjoyment of exercise.

But the key thing to remember here is you don’t have to be in a gym to exercise.

There are all kinds of exercise that you can do at home, either with or without equipment.  Look around your house for what you could use for equipment – like your stairs, tins of food, bottles filled with soil.

Be creative!

Can you get out in your garden and be more active there?

Exercise is activity in whatever form you want to take it.  Just being active, moving more, getting that heart rate up a little bit, a little bit out of breath, moving your body in a way that feels good for you.

Often we don’t feel like starting it. One of my sayings is:

“I love how exercise makes me feel. I don’t always feel like exercising”

exercise to avoid weight gain

The deal I have with myself is I set specific times that I’m going to do my exercise and write them in my diary like appointments.  If I don’t feel like it at that time, I say, “let’s do 10 minutes and see how it feels then”.

So I give myself permission that if it’s not feeling good after 10 minutes, I can stop.  Actually, I can’t recall a time when I’ve stopped because when I start moving it actually feels good.

I feel better and I always finish that session, whether it’s 20 minutes, 30 40 or 60 minutes, whatever I’m doing on that particular day.

Even though we know it will make us feel better, it’s still hard to get over that hurdle of starting to move.

So do what works for you. Set in times in your diary, putting an alarm in your phone, having your workout clothes out, ready.

Get rid of the barriers that you can use as excuses for not doing exercise, or what ever activity you enjoy.  Be inventive, be creative. There is lots of support available online too.  If you’re really stuck and you would like some support, then please message me and I will do my very best to help you as well.


In this blog I summarise 5 factors that may cause you to gain weight during social distancing:

  1. moving less
  2. eating, drinking (and snacking) differently due to your different environment
  3. emotional eating
  4. sleeping less
  5. thinking you can’t workout because you can’t go to the gym

5 reasons you'll gain weight during social distancing

So yes, at the time of recording, when we have severe restrictions of movement for social distancing as a result of COVID-19 there is a lot to be worried about.

And your nutrition or weight management may not be at the top of your agenda.  But taking these simple steps to really focus on your health, doing your best to take care of how you feel within your body is going to help you to manage all of that.

And remember, focus on what you CAN do.

However small and insignificant that feels, focusing on what you can do and doing those things one at a time, will make a major difference to your overall mood.   Take care of yourself and remember, if you have any questions, please do send them in and I will do my very best to answer them.

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