So…how where your eating habits in 2020? Did you experience any pandemic weight gain? I sure did. I gained 25lbs. Interestingly though my weight was stable during the first half, and only started to climb in October. By January I was very unhappy with my weight and how I looked and felt. The quick weight gain was especially frustrating because in 2019 I had lost 30lbs, and now had gained it all back. All thanks to our new pandemic lifestyle, and stress eating with the ramp up to the holidays. Today I’m sharing with you how I’m losing my pandemic weight gain. Spoiler. It’s the hard way.
I know so many of us have experienced weight gain during the pandemic, or even unwanted weight loss. We haven’t just experienced a huge lifestyle change, we’ve also been very affected by daily stress. For many of us, we respond to stress through stress-eating. Chasing dopamine.
Diet talk is the absolute worst though, isn’t it? I hate talking about dieting almost more than actual dieting. It’s such a loaded, emotional topic for so many people. It makes me truly uncomfortable. I think in this very stressful time, It’s good to open up about something that a lot of us are struggling with. My hope is that at the very least, we can all feel less ‘alone’ in this particular struggle.
I am not a nutrition or a weight loss expert. Please don’t take my dieting as your blue print for weight loss. My aim is simply to commiserate with you, and maybe motivate you to find something that works for you and your lifestyle. Maybe I can empower you to take control in one thing we all have control over right now. Our own healthy habits.
Be kind to yourself and be patient. This takes a long time commitment. Don’t be too rigid. If you can allow yourself to be flexible on certain occasions you will feel less restricted overall. Being too rigid or expecting fast results will only cause you stress, which will make it that much harder to be consistent. The information I am sharing with you about my dieting habits can be applied to any eating plan, whatever your goals are. The point is, mindfulness and positive habits.
How I’m Losing My Pandemic Weight Gain
The Diet Plan I’m Following
I’ve done every diet under the sun over the past 13 years. I’ve successfully lost weight many times, and I’ve gained weight back. There are so many diets that ‘worked’ in the short term, but were un sustainable long term. The one diet that felt like it truly was long term sustainable for me was Macro Dieting or IIFYM (If It Fits Your macros). It’s how I lost my weight in 2019 and how I decided to lose the weight this time around.
With macro dieting you calculate your caloric needs based on your activity level, and find your average ideal macronutrient targets. The goal is to eat as closely as possibly to your deficit threshold without eating too low in calories. You also maintain high enough protein for your current weight so that you do not lose muscle mass as you lose weight. This helps with your overall body composition. Going too low in calories will cause rapid weight loss at first, but will cause rebound weight gain when you plateau and cannot reduce your calories any further. There are tons of resources online for macro dieting. The IIFYM label is kind of new and popular, but body builders have been macro dieting for years and the science isn’t new or groundbreaking.
To follow a Macro Diet, you not only need to calculate your ideal caloric and macro needs, you also then need to input the data of all the food you eat. This is the calculator I use to find my macros and calorie needs. I use the My Macros app to track my food intake. It has a very good visual for macro ratios. After figuring out your macros and calories, the next part of the equation requires you to weigh all of your food intake precisely. For simplicity, use a food calculator to keep track. I use My Macros, but MyFitness Pal is also really good. I prefer the interface of MM but MFP is best for building recipes, and finding foods in their larger database. It helps to plan out your foods in advance so that you are not accidentally left with too few calories early on in the day. Over time you will get good at intuitively knowing what your portion sizes should be, and how to balance your meals to reduce hunger.
Essentials For Macro Dieting
Besides dieting itself, there are a few other strategies that are helping me. The first few weeks of dieting I meal prepped my meals for an entire week ahead. It’s a lot of work up front, but it made the entire week run really smoothly. I was so happy for the weeknight cooking relief, and also being able to input my meals into the app ahead of time. Calculating nutrition for recipes is more complicated than adding in a basic food like 150g of chicken over 100g of broccoli. That gets super boring though and variety really helps the diet not feel monotonous and restrictive.
I searched for high protein low calorie meals in cook books and on Pinterest, and selected 5 simple recipes to cook up on a Saturday. Most of these recipes where freezable so I just packed them into containers, labeled them with nutrition data and popped them in the freezer. I weighed and recorded every ingredient and calculated it at the end of the recipe, weighting the total volume of the cooked meal. Each recipe gave me about 4-6 servings which was nice because I was also meal prepping for my husband. Meal planning made our meals a lot more exciting and tasty. We enjoyed new recipes that had tons of flavour like chimichangas and chicken cordon bleu meatballs This is a lot like using a meal service like Hello Fresh, but you are doing the work and controlling the calories.
One thing I really had to adjust for meal prepping was grocery shopping. It’s hard to gauge what to buy when you pick a bunch of recipes from a cookbook vs. What you already have in your kitchen, and what you normally buy. I believe people call this adulting, but I’m not very good at it. I found the easiest way to keep track of what I needed was to use a grocery list app where I could go through recipes and add all the ingredients, and then have all of the ingredients amalgamated into one list and edited. Don’t ask me why but having this all in app form is just easier than writing it down. Automating the process as much as possible was my key to success.
Meal Prep Essentials
Look, dieting is really easy the first few weeks when you can control every single food choice. Eventually life happens and your perfectly controlled system is challenged with either a birthday celebration, work stress, unexpected stress events or some other obligation. How you handle these challenges and adapt to them really determines how successful you will be at maintaining this long term. This is where it gets really easy to sabotage your hard efforts by either feeling discouraged at the inevitable course disruption, or feel very restricted. You can create systems in order to reduce the disruption like meal prepping for the week, but you need to be able to enjoy a piece of cake on your child’s birthday, or enjoy a dinner out.
These are a few of the strategies I use to allow flexibility. If I know I have a higher calorie day coming which will include a dinner out, or cake, I reduce my calories slightly each day for a week to account for the overage. I still track my food for that off day which is really easy to do. I look ahead at the restaurant’s nutrition menu and plan something reasonable. Often you can find items on the menu that ‘fit’ within your daily allotment.. If I’m going to eat out though, which is a rare treat these days, I’d rather pick something I like off the menu that isn’t too crazy instead of picking something I’m not that enticed by because it’s lowest in calories. I would much rather reduce calories slightly each day for a week to prepare for that meal.
An interesting side note about restaurant menu ordering. Often the burgers or steaks are better macros than large dinner salads. A restaurant salad is often 1200 calories thanks to longer ingredient lists, dressing and proteins. A steak or burger may be just 700 calories.
Calculating birthday cakes has happened a few times since I started and it was easier than anticipated. One cake was a DQ ice cream cake, and one was a Whole Foods Coconut Cake which I easily found on My Fitness Pal. I made sure to weight my portion and was pretty satisfied that I had an exact calculation. Another cake was a cheesecake my sister made. My sister makes killer cheesecake so there was no I was going to not have some, or reject her efforts. I found several cheesecake entries in My Fitness Pal and averaged the data using the same portions.
My Weight Loss So Far
I’m pretty happy with my weight loss so far. I’ve lost 16lbs in about a month and a half. Some weeks the weight loss has been rapid, and some weeks the scale didn’t move at all. None of my fun meals have caused me to really stall out or gain weight. Although I do track my weight loss daily I am training myself to not get caught up in the daily numbers. I use an app that was recommended to me by a reader several years ago that graphs your weight over time. This really helps me keep perspective and see that even on the weeks the scale doesn’t move much or at all, I’m still on the same loss trajectory. The app projects the amount of time it will take for me to reach my goal based on the trends so far. It helps manage my expectations and prevents me from stressing out too much on days when the scale doesn’t move which would either cause me to prematurely reduce my calories (which would be a mistake) or give up altogether. The app is called Happy Scale.
Nutritious Convenience Foods
Some foods I’ve found really helpful to have available for convenience is frozen salmon, tuna and cod from Costco. I love the pre measured packets. I do need to still measure my portions as you will learn that label portions are not exact. Generally they are pretty close. I am obsessed with the Costco Taylor Farms Dill Salad so an easy meal is a baked Salmon over the dill salad. For breakfast I love the frozen spinach egg white frittatas by Veggies Made Great at Costco. They are very good! Turkey pepperoni sticks are just 50 calories each and a good way to bump up my protein when I’m a bit short. Especially if I am hungry and need a snack, but don’t know what I want. Initially I was drinking protein shakes blended with frozen fruit smoothie packets for my post dinner desert or as a late afternoon snack. I now prefer Fairlife Chocolate Protein Shakes which I’ve recently discovered. I also like the vanilla Fairlife Protein to add to my coffee. I am LOVING the Fairlife proteins because they are shelf stable until opened, and because they are simply a protein fortified milk. Chocolate milk tastes way better than protein powder and it’s easier on my stomach. Also study positive and negative effects of coffee.
Exercise really helps in giving me higher calorie allotment, and extra energy but my weight loss isn’t dependent on exercise. For me, exercise and weight loss do not go hand in hand. Exercising at higher intensities makes me a lot hungrier. It actually makes me hungrier for an excess amount of calories not a maintenance amount of calories. It also tricks me into thinking I now have a pass for eating less mindfully. That is not the case for my body. I have to put my weight loss focus on nutrition and mentally separate it from fitness. Fitness helps me in many other ways like regulating my hormones, sleep, mood. It increasing metabolism and energy. It strengthening my cardiovascular system and muscles….but it’s an indirect path to weight loss for me so I can’t rely on that alone. I calculate my macro needs based on moderate exercise and since I am desk bound for work, a sedentary day.
I hope you guys found this post helpful. I’d love to know if you too are dealing with weight management during the pandemic and what you are doing for weight loss/gain or lifestyle accommodation. Do you have any tips that have worked really well for you that you can share with us?