The Quarantine 15: How to stay active and avoid unintentional weight gain while stuck at home –

A new phrase has increasingly popped up on social media during the last few weeks: The Quarantine 15.

Instead of putting on a few extra pounds while off at college, aka The Freshman 15, people are now concerned about gaining weight during the ongoing coronavirus crisis as they find themselves sitting around more, stress eating and snacking out of boredom while holed up inside their homes.

Dietitians and health experts have the same concerns. As people adjust to social distancing measures and stress levels spike, they recognize that unintentional weight gain could follow.

We are sitting a lot and we may not be burning as many calories as we would be if we were going into the office. We dont have that kind of unintentional movement that we have become so dependent upon, said Diane Stadler, a licensed dietician and associate professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University. On top of that, were eating because were bored or were getting up just to do something and we walk past food thats readily available. I think we have to be really cautious about what that is going to lead to in terms of unintentional weight gain.

So, how do we avoid that unintentional weight gain while homebound? Dietitians and health experts say its about making a conscious effort to maintain routines, get regular exercise, and make smart choices at the grocery store and in the kitchen.


While it might be a lot easier to sleep in late, lounge around in pajamas and binge watch Netflix while youre stuck at home over the coming weeks, experts say that it is important to try to maintain a similar routine to the one you had before the coronavirus upended our lives.

Yes, you may no longer be going into the office or dropping kids off at school, but you can still create some structure in your daily life by setting an alarm and following your regular morning routine.

Maintaining structure around meals is especially important.

I think it is important to schedule what youre going to eat, Stadler said. If you are the type of person that historically woke up at 6 a.m., had coffee, had something to eat, were out the door at 7:15 and didnt eat anything else until 12 p.m., then we have to maintain that same type of schedule. Otherwise, the risk of consuming food kind of indiscriminately just because its available and we have the time becomes a potential problem.

People often turn to food at times of heightened stress because it offers immediate gratification, but sticking to a routine can help limit that stress eating. Psychologists say that maintaining a routine is one of the easiest and more important ways to manage stress and anxiety, which is key to both mental and physical health.

I certainly think that there are many people for whom their diet and their stress level have a relationship, said Jamie Beckerman, a cardiologist and the medical director of Providence Heart Institutes Cardiac Prevention and Wellness clinic. There is a lot of data from disasters in the past that suggest that there are spikes in heart attacks and heart disease events during times of increased stress because this is a more prolonged form of stress.


People have unsurprisingly tried to stock up on nonperishable foods during the coronavirus outbreak in an attempt to avoid extra trips to the grocery store. But just because youre buying foods that have longer shelf lives doesnt mean that they cant be healthy.

Stadler said that it was often better to buy frozen meats and vegetables over canned products that might be higher in sodium. If you dont have freezer space, she said that was best to look for canned products that are lower in sodium. When it comes to canned beans, grocery stores will often place the lower and higher sodium options next to each other.

And while it might be tempting to stock up on comfort foods, caffeinated drinks and alcohol to kick the boredom at home, it can be hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle and sleep schedule when you are homebound and those items are readily available.

I think people under stress, the risk of people consuming alcohol at higher rates is high and likely, Stadler said. There are a lot of calories that come with consuming alcoholic beverages and that can exacerbate not only weight gain, but just depressed mood.

Beckerman recommends purchasing whole foods and using the added time at home to try out new nutritious recipes, rather than snacking on processed food. With schools closed, he said this was a good time to get kids involved in meal prep as well. If people are instead opting to order food for delivery or pickup, its important to be mindful of portion sizes and ingredients, Stadler said.

Think about whether or not that meal that you actually ordered could be something that you could separate into two or three different meals, Stadler said. Always make sure you are purchasing a salad or vegetables to go along with a meal and savor the fresh produce you have access to.


Carving out time for exercise is as important as ever both to prevent unintentional weight gain and to manage stress.

Beckerman recommends setting aside some portion of your day for exercise, whether thats running through an intense home workout or doing something as simple as walking around your block or house. Exercise reduces stress and can lead to better sleep, which in turn makes it easier to cut down on mindless and emotional eating, Beckerman said.

People that are active, and that might mean a casual walk up and down the street after dinner, that is enough to kind of flip on the switches that make our bodies healthier, Beckerman said. Even if you never lift a weight or download an app or break a sweat, you can promote a very healthy environment in your body just by walking for 30 minutes a day.

While people may no longer have access to their local gyms, that shouldnt prevent them from exercising. Nike has stopped charging subscription fees for its training club premium service, which offers workout videos and training programs. Many national and local fitness clubs and yoga studios have started offering courses online as well.

While household items, such as water jugs, can be used as weights, there are also plenty of ways to stay active without any form of equipment or app. Even taking time to stand up and walk around the house every hour can have both mental and physical health benefits during this stressful time.

"We cant let ourselves get into that mindless routine of either eating the wrong things or not doing the activities that we would normally do, Stadler said. I think we need to get those activities on our calendar and we have to be true to them, so we dont let other activities invade that time when its on our schedules. In doing that, were getting up, were moving, were not sitting, were not just looking at a screen the whole day.

-- Jamie Goldberg | | @jamiebgoldberg

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The Quarantine 15: How to stay active and avoid unintentional weight gain while stuck at home -

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