Pandemic weight gain has affected a lot of people worldwide due to lack of physical activity, availability of high-calorie foods at home, emotional stress, and disrupted sleeping patterns. A study published earlier this year in JAMA Network Open shows a steady weight gain of 1.5 pounds per month (February to June 2020) since the start of the pandemic. Significant weight gain that leads to obesity can have a serious impact on one’s overall health. In times like this, we should try our best to be at our healthiest, so we can avoid diseases like diabetes, heart diseases, and cancer.
Weight gain is the result of consuming more calories than what your body needs and moving less during the day. Lack of sleep, food availability, unbalanced eating, and social factors can lead to high-calorie food cravings.
Here are the most important proven strategies that you can do right now to realistically manage your cravings.
Regulate your hormones by getting enough sleep
Try to recall the times when you’ve experienced intense cravings for sweets or junk foods because you didn’t get to sleep well the night before. Studies show that there is a strong connection between lack of sleep and intense food cravings. Lack of sleep can greatly affect your appetite-regulating hormones such as leptin and ghrelin. Lower levels of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin can increase your hunger and appetite for high-calorie foods such as desserts, fatty and savory foods.
To balance your hormones, make an extra effort to fix your sleeping habits. Avoid caffeine six hours before bedtime. Make a time limit for your television watching to no more than one hour per night. Put your phone away from you or turn off the social media notifications at night. Seeing food posts from your friends’ posts can trigger your food cravings.
Discover healthier and mindful activities before going to bed simple meditation (you can try meditation apps such as Head Space, Buddhify, Calm or Insight Timer) or bedtime prayers. Have a fruitful dialogue with your spouse like discussing ways on how you can help each other stay fit and healthy this pandemic. Listen to your favorite Spotify playlist that can relax your mind and soul.
If you are experiencing serious sleep problems, ask for some help from a health professional specializing in sleep issues.
Eat on time and balance your eating
Most people who are trying to lose weight may have the tendency to skip a meal or two to make up for the overeating episodes that happened the day before. Some will remove carbs from the diet. Eliminating an important meal during the day such as a post-workout breakfast after an intense and long morning cardio workout can result in extreme hunger pangs by lunchtime and more craving episodes during the day that can last even after dinner time.
Proper spacing of meals is a very important strategy in controlling one’s appetite and craving. An active person with a high metabolism should eat a nutritious and balanced meal or snack every three to four hours to regulate the appetite. If you only eat three to four times a day, make sure that you get seven to eight hours of sleep and you eat the appropriate calories or amount of food for breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner. Sleep three to four hours after your last meal so can avoid possible craving episodes at night.
Aside from having the proper timing of meals, it is also important to consider the balance that you get from your diet by making sure that you have the right amount of carbs, protein, and fat in every meal or snack. Depriving yourself of one nutrient like carbs like grains can lead to intense sweet food cravings due to an imbalance of glucose in your body.
Aside from vegetables and fruits, you can always choose to eat healthier grains like brown rice, quinoa, oats, and whole-grain noodles or pasta.
Make sure that you have enough healthy protein like egg, chicken, seafood, or lean red meat. Get healthy fats from seeds, nuts, fish, olive oil, and avocado.
Make nutritious meals and healthier food alternatives always available
Aside from lack of physical activity, the availability of high-calorie foods at home is one of the main reasons why people gained a lot of weight for the past one and a half years. You tend to just eat the foods that are being served during mealtimes and you eat whatever is available in your pantry and fridge. Staying at home 24/7 can lead to boredom, which often results in psychological hunger or craving. Access to high-calorie foods from your favorite food shops and restaurants is a lot easier now because of online food delivery services.
Eat enough vegetables and protein so your stomach won’t have enough room anymore to take in high-sugar desserts and drinks. I just celebrated my birthday and wedding anniversary last week. Friends and family gave me both healthy and high-calorie foods, but I was able to manage my daily intake by making sure that I have healthy food available at home so I could still prioritize eating vegetables, healthy grains, fruits, nuts, seeds, seafood, chicken and lean meat, but still try food gifts even by having small servings of high-carb and sugary foods such as cakes, chocolates, sweetbreads, and pasta.
It’s okay to give in to your cravings sometimes but always apply portion control. You can eat a small serving, then immediately share or give the high-calorie foods to others.
Always make healthier food alternatives available at home so you can overcome unavoidable cravings during your premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Here are some of my favorite sweet and savory healthy food alternatives I also recommend to my clients. You can also look for healthy recipes for your favorite desserts online.
Fruity desserts (combine natural yogurt with half a banana or mango, almonds or walnuts, and oats) instead of ice cream
Nutty polvoron or energy balls (use a food processor and combine cacao nibs, oats, almonds, cashew nuts, flax seed meal, nut butter) instead of a cookie or milky chocolate bar
Healthy nutty dessert (healthier sugar alternatives like honey, stevia or coco sugar, cacao nibs, almond flour, oats, banana cacao powder, nuts and seeds, egg) instead of high-calorie cookies or brownies
Coconut water fruit and veggie smoothie (almond milk, celery, cucumber, kale, or any green leafy vegetable, berries, apple or your choice of fruit) instead of iced tea or sugary drinks
A serving of multi-grain crackers with egg and/or a small serving of cheese instead of pizza