Shelter-In-Place Puts a Strain on Weight Management

April 12, 2021 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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 Shelter-In-Place Puts a Strain on Weight Management
This past year the COVID-19 Pandemic has brought about many things beyond illness and vaccinations. Shutdowns and stressors have led to changes in habits and behaviors that may have had unintended consequences. One of the “shelter-in-place” consequences imposed on the health of many individuals is weight gain.

Shelter-In-Place Puts a Strain on Weight Management


The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open released a report earlier in March 2021 on “shelter-in-place” weight gain. After analyzing various elements of data with 269 adults, it was found during the time of shelter-in-place individuals gained an average of 1.5 pounds per month. The reasons being fewer steps taken each day, more snacks, and overeating.

A weight gain of 1.5 pounds per month may not seem like much. However, if you factor this in for more than just a few months, it becomes a substantial concern. If the trend continues for six months of shelter-in-place, it adds up to 9 pounds of weight gain whereas 12 months of shelter-in-place may lead to an average of 18 pounds of weight gain. A gallon of water weighs 8.35 pounds. Think about how much extra effort it takes for your body to carry around the weight of one, two, or more of extra “gallons of water” with this type of weight gain. That weight puts stress on the heart and blood vessels, respiratory tract, joints, and creates more inflammation for the whole body.

Weight gain is linked with all-causes of death, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke, gallbladder problems, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and other respiratory disorders, cancers, depression, anxiety, and other mental illness, diminished quality of life and physical function, and chronic pain. It is a major risk factor for severe COVID-19.

If you find yourself needing to manage some weight issues, now is a great time to get back on track. Here are some helpful tips and reminders to help shed some of the shelter-in-place/winter weight gain.

Stick to a Schedule


Many individuals have found their schedule and days all muddled together because of stay-at-home orders and/or working from home. It is a good reminder to stay on schedule with basic things. Consistent bedtimes and awake times followed by regular mealtimes sets the tone for your metabolic fat burning rhythm, thyroid and adrenal hormone metabolism, body clocks, and leptin. These bodily rhythms are just as important for metabolism as the quality and quantity of your food intake.

Eat breakfast within two hours after arising as it sets the metabolic tone for the day. A higher protein breakfast also increases metabolic activity compared to a high carbohydrate breakfast or skipping breakfast. Make set mealtimes, i.e. breakfast, lunch, and dinner at consistent times. Regular mealtimes help your digestive tract with its natural rhythms and metabolism. When you graze or snack throughout the day, it places increased demands on digestion. A break from eating between meals allows the natural cyclical processes to have a beginning and end. This helps your blood sugar, leptin, and other hormones function more efficiently and aids in gut motility.

Mindful Eating


Do not eat meals or snacks while you are working or while watching TV. Sit down at the kitchen or dining room table with your family. Place the desired portion of proteins, carbs (beans, legumes, rice, etc) with one or more servings of vegetables and a serving fruit on your plate so you can visibly see it. Don’t eat directly from the jar, pan, bag or container so you can control the portion size. When your mind is occupied with other things it is very easy to over-consume foods, especially when the whole container is present. You are more likely to miss the flavor and taste of foods when preoccupied.

It takes about 20-30 minutes for your brain to recognize the full signal. If you “inhaled” your food, or overate while you were preoccupied, it becomes harder for your leptin hormone and pleasure signals to optimally function. Take time to savor your food.

Stress Eating


Stress eating happens for many reasons – boredom, work deadlines, emotional stress, feeling empty, depressed, or anxious, or needing comfort. This is more apt to happen when mealtimes have been missed. Consumption of calorie rich/nutrient poor foods (processed, packaged foods) contributes the cycle of stress eating with blood sugar swings and nutrient deficits. A hunger signal may still occur even though adequate calories were consumed because your body suffers from lack of adequate nutrients and fibers.

Whole foods with quality protein, complex whole grains, and a variety of good fats can make a substantial impact on stress eating. These whole foods are necessary for natural serotonin and dopamine production. Mood and stress eating concerns are often challenged with imbalanced neurotransmitters.

Adequate water intake also influences satiety. Thirst signals may be misinterpreted for hunger signals. Drink a full 12-ounce glass of water to see if that stops the hunger signal or compulsion to reach for that comfort food.

Sleep deficits, or out-of-sync body rhythms, cause people to eat more food and may contribute to eating more junk food, caffeine products, or simple sugars, including fruit juice products, to quickly stimulate blood sugar release. This may make you feel a bit better initially, but it will quickly backfire. Night-shift and rotating shift-workers struggle the most with disrupted circadian rhythm metabolic effects.

Rapid blood sugar swings, insulin resistance, leptin resistance, fatigue, and adrenal-brain (HPA) dysfunction contribute to stress eating and craving sugar. Gut problems with yeast or bacteria imbalances worsen with stress and further contribute to cravings and poor satiety.

Physical Activity


Your liver is a metabolic furnace. When you graze, overeat, or consume too many empty calories and have a sedentary lifestyle, your liver does not have the chance to burn the storehouse of glucose. It gets overwhelmed with the excess sugar. As a result, the liver becomes metabolically out of shape and the sugar turns into fat, i.e., a fatty liver.

Similar effects occur with your muscles. Fat cells increase in muscle tissues, while muscle fibers shrink with sedentary lifestyles and dietary excess. Engaging in physical activity, especially when your heart rate is elevated with aerobic activity, helps your liver and muscles burn fat. HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training is considered the most efficient way to burn sugar and boost metabolic fitness with the least amount of time.

Small changes in physical output can add up over time. No one ran a marathon the first time that they decided to lace up their jogging shoes. Doing something is better than nothing. Set goals for yourself and work your way up to at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity per day, four or more days per week. Strive for an additional 1000-2000 steps per day than you currently walk. Do more if you can consistently. Spring is here. Not only is it good for the body, but it is also a day brightener to be outside. Get outside and go for a walk, a hike, a bike ride, or play some golf or a game of Frisbee.

Helpful Tips


An estimated 97,000,000 people in the United States are overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 25-29.9, or obese with a BMI of 30 and higher. If you need a little extra help to get back on track, consider extra dietary protein or a protein supplement. Many individuals find that 25-35 grams of protein at breakfast, and even at lunch, helps them get through the day much better.

Extra fiber also helps you feel fuller and is essential to stabilizing blood sugar swings. Strive for at least 30-40 grams of dietary fiber per day. Most Americans get 10-15 grams per day. Start slow with fiber changes and increase water intake to help your bowels become accustomed to the change.

Sugar Cravings and Blood Sugar Support


Chromium is often missing from foods due to depleted soil content. Very limited amounts are found in many foods, but dairy and processed foods contain none. This trace mineral is necessary for blood sugar regulation and can be helpful in managing sugar cravings. Research on dietary analysis of chromium intake nearly 30 years ago was about 27 micrograms per day with a well-balanced diet and that was considered “suboptimal”. It is likely that today’s intake is even less with depleted soils and the typical Western Diet. The RDA is 25-35 mcg per day for healthy adults. Higher amounts of chromium may be used to aid blood sugar management.

Gymnema sylvestre and Inula racemosa, known as “sugar buster” herbs, help reduce the desire for sweet tasting food. Cinnamon extract helps your muscles burn blood sugar for energy production and turns on the fat burning enzyme AMPK. The amino acid glutamine can also help with sugar cravings. The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA help your cells throughout your body and brain receive thyroid, leptin, and insulin hormone signals which helps fat burning instead of fat storage.

Gut Health


Underlying gut problems with constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, antibiotic use, and aspirin and other medication use, disrupt healthy gut flora and gut lining integrity. Even lack of physical activity changes your gut flora. Eating the same foods without variety shrinks your healthy gut flora. When your gut flora and the intestinal lining are compromised and out of balance, it directly impacts weight management. Make sure you support your gut. Fiber, probiotics, curcumin, vitamin D, glutamine, and other nutrients aid gut health.

Additional resources:


The Five Rules of The Leptin Diet

Skipping Breakfast Impacts Weight, Blood Sugar, Cardiovascular Health

Snacking and Skipping Breakfast Linked to Type 2 Diabetes

Nutrients That Safely Boost Fat Burning

Body Clocks and Weight Management – It’s All About Timing

Cinnamon Supports Blood Sugar Health, Fat Burning, and Immune Defense

The Effects of Green Tea on Weight Management

Green Tea Turns on Fat Burning Gene

Glutamine: Surprise Benefits for Heart, Bones, and Blood Sugar

The Keto Diet: Know the Risks

Western Diet Causes Cycle of Brain Damage and Obesity

Diabetes and COVID-19

Your Sweet Tooth Adversely Impacts Gut and Brain Health

Metabolic Syndrome, Diabetes, and Obesity Affects Hearing Status

Stevia – The Dark Side of This Natural Sweetener

Health Clues and Tips for Your Heart and Weight

Health Clues and Tips for Your Heart and Weight: Part II

Cholesterol: Protect this Vital Compound

Exercise Endurance and Energy Linked to Gut Health

Sitting Too Much Really is Deadly

Sitting Too Much Linked To Breast and Colon Cancer

Sedentary Lifestyle and Swollen Legs Contribute to Snoring

Social Isolation and Stress Management

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