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Weight loss Wednesday: Pandemic stress cause weight gain

“That isolation, for a lot, has brought on the additional mental health needs. It's caused people to be more depressed,” she noted.

If you noticed that the scale has been creeping upward over the last year, you are not alone.

 Pandemic pounds are showing up across the country, as COVID-19 takes its toll on Americans' waistlines. An American Psychological Association survey finds nearly two-thirds of us had an undesired weight change in the last year. (61% undesired weight change). Some people lost weight, but more of them, as many as 42 percent, gained an average of nearly 30 pounds.

“(People are) feeling like they just don't care as much. It's harder to be able to get out there and do things. Yes, that is coming up more than normal,” said Dr. Michelle Moore, a Psychologist at LSU Health Sciences Center.

Dr. Moore said it's from the stress of locking down away from friends and routines, losing jobs, troubled relationships, and being sedentary.

“That isolation, for a lot, has brought on the additional mental health needs. It's caused people to be more depressed,” she noted.

So why is weight gain related to stress, depression and isolation?

“Several people have talked about they've found themselves eating more junk food because they're trying to cope,” said Dr. Moore.

Exercise bathes your brain in long-term, feel-good chemicals, but that takes time. Junk foods do the same, but it's instant gratification, even though it's a fleeting feeling. 

Credit: American Psychological Association

 Those who gained the most weight are essential workers, parents coping with children at home, and young adults.

We know that weight gain is bad for you physically, but emotionally it makes you even more depressed, taking away your desire to go out and be with your friends. That concerns Dr. Moore.

“Absolutely, it's a major problem because it's contributing to further isolation.”

The survey also finds drinking alcohol is up. That's extra sugar calories. Just one, five-ounce glass of wine a day can add nearly 15 pounds to the scale in a year.

Dr. Moore says the stress can linger long after the pandemic is over, so to make positive changes think back to your strength after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

“Knowing what that felt like, how did you overcome that? How did you bounce back? Where did you find resilience to persevere?” Dr. Moore suggests that you ask yourself.

And she said find a trusted someone and take action with together.

The survey also finds that about half of Americans feel uneasy about adjusting to in-person interaction once the pandemic ends. That was in both people who are vaccinated, and people who are not.

Click here to see more details on the survey.

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