Published on Apr 03, 2020

  • Published on Apr 3, 2020
  • COVID shutdowns and stay at home orders have amplified challenges for people who struggle with their weight or have eating disorders.
  • If you're worried about going back to the gym, consider virtual exercise and training at home.
  • Taking steps to connect to your self, community, and a greater good help boost positivity and improve overall well-being.
  • Pavelka suggests a three strategy approach for wellness : Plan your food, move your body, and pay attention to your thoughts and emotions.

Video Transcript

JOHN WHYTE: You're watching Coronavirus in Context. I'm Dr. John Whyte, chief medical officer at WebMD. It's pretty stressful right now, isn't it? And many of us are having challenges staying healthy, being active, eating right, getting enough sleep. So I've asked Jessie Pavelka. Some of you may know him from The Biggest Loser. He's also an author and wellness expert. I've asked him to come by and give us some tips. Jessie, thanks for joining me.

JESSIE PAVELKA: John, thank you for having me.

JOHN WHYTE: You know, I told you how we did a survey at WebMD a few weeks ago, and we found that most people are gaining weight. That's not surprising, is it?


JOHN WHYTE: Some of-- people are 10 pounds. Some are 20 pounds. And we know that often weight gain can cause problems later on. So how are you advising people? What do they do to stay healthy during these stressful times?

JESSIE PAVELKA: Yeah, I mean, I think that no doubt, the impact that these times have on us is going to be expressed in a variety of ways. If you are someone that struggles with-- with weight, issues around food, then those issues are going to be amplified. And I think the most important piece, really, is the awareness piece and just understanding who you are, how you operate. And then just in any given moment, as you walk into the kitchen, as you-- as you walk into the living room to do your virtual exercise, just being really aware of how you're feeling, how you're doing. I think that's a starting point for-- again, for a lot of people in this-- this situation.

And I kind of-- you know, we could predict, you know, in crisis, some of our best assets surface, some of our worst. And I think that because of, again, what we've been presented with, the-- maybe the not-so-positive behaviors--


JESSIE PAVELKA: --tend to get turned up. And so I'm not-- not surprised by it.

JOHN WHYTE: And you mentioned virtual exercise. Is now the time to go back to a gym if they reopen?

JESSIE PAVELKA: I think it's-- you know, here's my thing, if you feel comfortable and you-- you abide by all of the protocol, you-- you make sure that you sanitize, you have all your protective gear, you stay in your corner-- if the-- if the location where you're located, if they say it's OK and if you feel it's OK, go for it. It's such an individualized experience, right? And what I feel comfortable with is different than what you're going to feel comfortable with.

And so I think the individual has to decide. Peace of mind is important. And if you are experiencing a lot of fear going into the gym, it's going to impact you in the kitchen. It's going to impact how you feel each and every day. So if you can do it, go for it. If it feels overwhelming, maybe take a step back and continue with the virtual training.

JOHN WHYTE: What's Jessie Pavelka doing for exercise right now?

JESSIE PAVELKA: Oh man, you know, one of-- John, one of the things that I have found that has been a gift of these more recent times is simplicity. And, you know, I would say over the last five years especially, with a big wave and focus on mental health, we've been gifted this newfound awareness, I think, of things that go outside of the physical and really allow you to connect more with how you feel-- when you wake up, when you're stressed and overwhelmed.

And what I love about well-being and the various ways we can exercise our health, wellness, well-being is accessibility is really important during these times. And I have found that my routine, while it's been simplified, those small behaviors have a massive impact on me. So little things like doing five minutes of breathing--


JESSIE PAVELKA: --that is like my little moment of peace, and I have to have it. It's out of necessity. It's not even for-- it's not even to shape the body or become bigger, stronger, faster. It's just to have peace of mind. And I think that's the-- that's the-- the-- the-- the kind of shift in perception I think that a lot of people have right now-- small is big. And so my wellness routine has been reduced down to these, you know, little moments-- five minutes of breathing, five minutes getting out of the head and into the body, going for a walk. And those five minutes mean a lot to me right now.

So I would say, for those that are struggling, you know, the message is simplify, right? Find those little bit-sized moments to engage in your health in a very simple way, and just notice the impact. That's the other piece of this is like, just get familiar with what it's like when you are sitting at your desk, you're in your head--


JESSIE PAVELKA: --and then you transition to going for that five minute walk. Notice the impact that it has.

JOHN WHYTE: Now, you espouse these four tenets, or four principles--


JOHN WHYTE: --as part of wellness, in terms of what you're trying to do to help people. Let's walk through those-- those four tenets.

JESSIE PAVELKA: Yeah, so it's eat, sweat, think, and connect.

JOHN WHYTE: Let's start with connect. What-- what do you mean by connect? JESSIE PAVELKA: Yeah, so connect is-- it happens in-- well, we'll say three ways, for now. You have connection to the self, which I talk about in my work, and connection to the self is achieved through all the behaviors that get you feeling strong, get you feeling at your best so that you can go out into the world and feel good about your contributions. So you have connection to the self that-- that is achieved through the food that you eat, the way that you move, paying attention to your thought life and engaging in any mental and emotional well-being practices that-- that get you feeling more positive, more calm.

And then there's a connection to another person, right? So what-- the way I look at it is this is an inside-out game. Making sure that your side of the street is clean, making sure that you're engaging in the behaviors that allow you to feel good gives you the opportunity to then go out into the world and support other individuals or reach out for help, you know, with other-- through other individuals as well. So there is connection to the self, connection to another person or a group as well.

The third point I'll highlight really quick, and this has been a really-- you know, during this time, I've seen it come to life, is connection to something greater than you. And that can be achieved in a variety of ways. But I think acts of service-- those are-- those are acts of-- acts of service are much bigger than you. So getting out of yourself, getting into service-- supporting people in need is such a gift you can give others but also give back to yourself.

JOHN WHYTE: So we have connect. We have eat. What do you recommend in terms of nutrition? What's in your refrigerator?

JESSIE PAVELKA: You know, I'm pretty lucky because, you know, I was-- I come from a sports background, so nutrition was always a big part of performance for me. So I've-- I've got a nice looking refrigerator. I have plenty of fruits and vegetables. I've got my lean proteins.

And for me, it's just a way of life for me. I don't-- I don't have to focus too much on food. I don't have to weigh or measure. And that's freedom. I think, for me, that's freedom. Now, everybody's different. For me, I think really focusing on strategies and standards is probably the best way we can start. Not necessarily--

JOHN WHYTE: So give me three tips. Give me three tips that we can give.

JESSIE PAVELKA: Yeah, so here's-- I'll give you strategy, and this is probably one that everyone's heard, but just plan ahead. It's-- it's such a simple thing. And during-- during-- you know, during this recent period, I think planning ahead is key. And that's a strategy that you put in place in order for you to connect back to the self and feel good.

So plan ahead with your food, do your shopping on a certain day, have control of what's on that shopping list. Make sure there's a nice variety of fruits and vegetables. The body loves variety. Variety is key. Eat some food that is of the earth. If it's of the earth, your body will appreciate it.

These are very simple concepts, right? It's not coming in and prescribing you exact nutrients. It's just taking the pressure out of food--


JESSIE PAVELKA: --giving you ownership, you say, I'm doing this, right? And I think that's a piece that's been lost. You know, we-- we-- we feel as though we have to find a coach or we have to engage in a program in order for it to work. But the reality is, set a standard of living for yourself around eat, sweat, think, and connect, which we're going to talk about the other two in a second, and let that-- let that be your standard. Let that be your style of life.

JOHN WHYTE: Let's talk about sweat. We talked a little bit about that.

JESSIE PAVELKA: Yeah, so sweat, it's about exercise. But it's not just about that one-hour window. It's about your day with movement. It's about creating body awareness. I'll go back to my experience and, you know, just getting up and going for that five minute walk. That is me exercising the sweat element.

I'm getting out of my head. I'm getting into my body. And for me, that-- that's really key. It gives me peace of mind. And gets my body moving. It gets my lymphatic system going. It gets my metabolism going, my circulatory system going. So there is a knock-on effect of-- just by engaging in that five minute walk.

But the sweat element is really an overall awareness of how much you're moving. When you-- and creating that awareness in those moments, after being plugged into meeting after meeting after meeting, stepping out-- stepping away and just going for a five minute walk.

JOHN WHYTE: And that last point was think.

JESSIE PAVELKA: Think, yes. You know, this one-- this one, for me, was the game-changer. Think and connect, I think a lot of us, when we look at eat and sweat, historically, we can quantify it. There's a lot of diets and exercise programs out there, and that's how we understand it. But think and connect are really the game-changer for people.

Think is all about paying attention to your thought life. It's awareness, mindfulness, for those that do exercise mindfulness. It's really getting to know yourself, how you operate, emotions, how you operate emotionally. But on the other end of that, being willing to embrace a mental and emotional well-being practice. Like, what is the routine that you put in place to support your mental health?

I love accessibility. I love bite-sized. And the great thing about the think element is it doesn't disrupt. You can-- you can connect to your breath in any given moment. You can create awareness in any given moment. You can write down a gratitude list in 30 seconds. You can write down how you're feeling in a short amount of time.

And the think element is accessible. It is just you being willing enough to create awareness and then engage in some of these tried and tested techniques to get you from a negative state to a positive state. And there are a variety of ways to do that. You know, I'm not-- I'm not-- I love hard science. I think it's really important, and I think even more so, people want hard science.

But there is this-- this softer side to being healthy that, you know, we don't necessarily need all the science to back it. It's just you do it because it's good for you. So that gratitude list might feel a little bit soft and cute and cuddly, but it means something, right? And-- and I think embracing that is a big step forward for a lot of people.

JOHN WHYTE: So Jessie, thank you for taking the time to share your insights, and let's go over this four elements one more time?

JESSIE PAVELKA: Yeah, so it's eat, sweat, think, and connect. It is simple. It is sustainable. And really, it's about you, as an individual, defining the behaviors that support the way forward for you in creating that standard of living. And, you know, I think for all the people that I've worked with, it's really been a game-changer. It's changed the way that they look at their own well-being, and it's giving them a real simplified how-to.

JOHN WHYTE: Terrific. Well, thank you, Jessie.

JESSIE PAVELKA: Thank you, John. I appreciate it.

JOHN WHYTE: And thank you for watching. I'm Dr. John Whyte.