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If Losing Your Routine Has You Gaining Weight, Here’s How to Take Back Control

It’s not just the ‘quarantine 15.’ With so much social and economic turmoil and uncertainty, many of us are stress eating. Take back your health with this plan.

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You’ve worked hard to build healthy habits. But many fitness centers and recreational areas are still closed. If you’ve been working from home, sitting more and moving less during the workday can make it challenging to maintain your weight. And with all that time indoors, it doesn’t help that the TV news seems to bring us 24/7 turmoil and more reasons to stock up on cookies and wine. If you’ve noticed your sweatpants getting snug or a doughy tummy when you stepped out of the shower, you’re in very good company right now. But Weston, Florida-based dietitian and nutritionist Lillian Craggs-Dino has a plan to help us lose the pounds from lockdown or avoid the surprise of needing larger pants. Here are her top tips for keeping our weight steady when our world is off-balance.

Stay on schedule

We can’t control everything happening around us right now, but we do still have power over our daily routines. And exercising this power can go a long way toward alleviating some of the stress that causes us to reach for chips and chocolate. “Wake up the same time, go to sleep the same time and maintain the eating pattern you usually have while working,” Craggs-Dino advises. Preserving your regular eating routine restores structure to your day, as well as to your diet. And when you do eat, step away from your keyboard to savor your meal on your balcony, in your backyard … anywhere nonwork-related.

The focus right now is holistic health, not just weight.
—nutritionist Lillian Craggs-Dino

Keep on moving

Don’t ditch your fitness routine just because the gym is closed. Studios, including Barry’s and Planet Fitness, are streaming workouts on Instagram and Facebook respectively, so you can still get professional instruction in the comfort of your own home. Outdoor exercise is still an option, as long as you maintain a safe social distance of ­at least six feet from other walkers or runners. Most of us will log far fewer steps working from home than at the office, so try also to incorporate regular movement breaks into your workday. I walk around my condo during phone calls, and if I’m working with the radio on in the background, I do 10 pushups or overhead presses with dumbbells whenever my favorite song comes on. Need a reminder? Stand Up! The Work Break Timer is an app that lets you schedule reminders to get up from your desk at the intervals of your choice. Not a regular exerciser? Consider this your opportunity to ease into a healthy habit. “This is a good time to dust off those workout DVDs, to do some yoga outside in the backyard or dance around the house,” says Craggs-Dino.

Listen to your body

The symptoms of mild dehydration — headache, fatigue and lightheadedness ­— can mimic those of hunger, leading us to confuse hunger with thirst. And a study found that inadequate hydration in adults is associated with higher BMI (body mass index) and obesity. So when you find yourself raiding the refrigerator for the third time in an afternoon, take a moment to ask yourself what you really need. Better yet, pour yourself a glass of water (I keep a pitcher on my desk) and see if the feeling subsides. If you’re still hungry 15 minutes later, opt for something nutrient-dense and filling, such as no-added-sugar trail mix or low-fat, low-sugar yogurt.

Cook healthy

With restaurants either closed or offering only limited menus, now’s a good time to brush up on your cooking skills. “Surf the internet for some healthy recipes, and start experimenting and having fun in your own kitchen,” suggests Craggs-Dino. She recommends the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for guidance on the fundamentals of a healthy eating plan. Craggs-Dino is also a fan of the app and website, which not only tracks the nutrients in what you’re eating but offers several healthy recipes (savory sweet potato muffins, anyone?) even inexperienced cooks can create.

Snack sensibly

Black-and-white cookies; a slice of red velvet cake; salt-and-vinegar chips … if there’s a time for comfort food, it’s now. But those comfort calories can really add up, particularly if you’re less active than usual. It’s important to track the type and amount of food you’re snacking on, says Craggs-Dino. Smart snack swaps should be low-calorie and nutrient-dense, but they don’t have to be boring. Sugar-free ice pops; fresh vegetables with hummus or low-fat dressing; a cup of low-sodium vegetable soup; and high-fiber crackers with low-fat cheese all get the dietician’s seal of approval. My own snack strategy starts at the supermarket — if I don’t bring those Twizzlers Sweet & Sour Filled Twists home, I won’t be tempted to eat them.

Cut yourself some slack

These are stressful and uncertain times and we’re all just trying to do our best. So allow yourself some grace if your diet isn’t as dialed-in as it could be. “The focus [right now] is holistic health, not just weight,” says Craggs-Dino, who also suggests short meditation breaks throughout the workday to alleviate the stress that can lead to overeating. “Stop dwelling on the numbers, and put into action healthy eating behaviors that can at least maintain weight.” In the grand scheme of things, an extra two or three pounds isn’t a tragedy. And chances are you’ll drop them once the world regains a semblance of a normal routine and you get back to yours.