• Stress eating and working from home is causing many people to gain weight during COVID, a pandemic health effect that's been dubbed the quarantine 15.
  • A WebMD survey found that people gained on average eight pounds in the last three months.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight is important, because a 10 percent spike in weight raises your risk of certain chronic diseases.
  • Tips to manage your weight include skipping added sugars and late-night snacks and drinking water before every meal.

Video Transcript

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JOHN WHYTE: You probably have heard about the Freshman 15, but have you heard about the Coronavirus 15 or the Quarantine 15? We're all stressed. We're working from home, we're not exercising, we're eating comfort foods all day, and we're gaining weight.

But is now the time to go on a diet? Should we be doing intermittent fasting or can we just eat whatever we want? I sat down a few minutes ago with some nutrition experts who give us tips and insights as to what we should be doing during these stressful times. Ashley and Anahad, thanks for joining me today.

ANAHAD O'CONNOR: Thanks for having me.

JOHN WHYTE: I want to start off with this survey that we ran on WebMD where we found that respondents gained, on average, eight pounds over the last 90 days. Ashley, are-- are you surprised by this?

ASHLEY KOFF: You know, John, I'm not. Um, and I was-- I loved reading through the survey results and even looking at the context internationally and seeing, you know, places that I don't normally think that you would have weight gain in-- in that time period.

JOHN WHYTE: Anahad, is eight pounds a lot? That doesn't seem too much, is it?

ANAHAD O'CONNOR: It does sound like a lot, actually. Um, especially if people are going to, you know, keep adding more and more weight to that, which, you know, could be the issue for a lot of people.

JOHN WHYTE: I want to point out, and we have a graphic, that on average, people gained eight pounds. But 21% of people gained 10 to 20 pounds. 4% of respondents gained over 21 pounds. What's the long term implication, Ashley, of this weight gain? I mean, if we extrapolate that, that can be, you know, 80 million Americans will have gained 640 million pounds.

ASHLEY KOFF: I do think we have a lot to be concerned about. Uh, you know, one of the pieces with that weight gain is, and when-- if any time you look at incrementally 10% of your weight and you see an increase, you have a direct correlation to an increase in risk of disease.

The other part is, we're very likely talking about fat mass. When we increase our fat mass, what we are talking about, uh, there, fat is not just uncomfortable or, oh, it means our clothes don't fit well. It actually has metabolic consequences as well.

JOHN WHYTE: Now, on Anahad, they-- they mentioned, 72% said their reasons for the weight gain was lack of exercise. But another 70% also said it was stressful eating. What do you think is really contributing to the weight gain here?

ANAHAD O'CONNOR: Uh, I-- I personally think that a big part of it is the stress eating. And I also think that, for a lot of people who are working from home, for example, you're now just feet away from your kitchen and from your pantry. Which, you know, we see from the data, for a lot of people are fully stocked with processed foods.

So it's much easier throughout the day to take breaks and to sneak into, you know, the kitchen for a snack. I've noticed that that's something I've had to be very mindful about. Um, and then also, you know, there is the exercise part of it as well. Gyms are closed. Fitness studios are closed.

JOHN WHYTE: When we started this news program, we interviewed someone on nutrition where they talked about, you know what? Now's not the time to be too hard on yourself. That if you want to eat some ice cream, right now, that's OK. Is that the same advice you'd give people now, Ashley? Don't be too hard on yourself.

ASHLEY KOFF: Number one, we don't want to be hard on ourselves. Do we need to go on a diet? Look, I never think that it's a bad time to turn around and say, hey, is my nutrition giving my body what it needs to run better, am I maybe taking in too much at one time.

Maybe I need professional help with this. You know, I got a lot of colleagues who are doing virtual-- virtual dietetic sessions. But I think the flipside of that is, um, we don't have access to everything, uh, that we had access to before.

JOHN WHYTE: I'm going to end with asking you, each of you, to give us three specific tips as it relates to nutrition that we can be doing right now during this pandemic. And this time, I'm going to start with Anahad.

ANAHAD O'CONNOR: OK, so I like time-restricted eating. That's-- that's one thing that has some scientific, you know, evidence for it and seems to work for a lot of people without being too restrictive. Another thing I'd say is watch for added sugar.

Um, we know from a lot of studies that added sugar increases your risk of, you know, heart disease, obesity, weight gain, all these things. And it also just tends to be a marker for unhealthy, uh, processed foods. So try to consume foods that don't have a lot of added sugars in them and then--

JOHN WHYTE: How do you go for that? What's the-- what advice do you give so they know-- people aren't going to know what added sugar means.

ANAHAD O'CONNOR: Oh, it's right there on the label. Thankfully, the FDA recently started requiring that foods, uh, or that companies, uh, list the amount of added sugars in their-- their products. So if you just flip over the back of the label, you'll see if it has added sugars or not.

You want something that, you know, doesn't have much added sugar, so certainly less than a few grams. Or if it's a fruit or a vegetable, it won't have a label on it and that's even better. Um, and then the last one I'd say-- this is not a nutrition tip, but it fits in there. It's about exercise.

It's about, you know, the fact that even a little is better than none. It's these little things. You know, just not being too restrictive, but just trying to squeeze in exercise, trying to look, you know, make sure you're not consuming too much added sugar, trying to make sure you're not, you know, eating late at night. Those little things, I think, will go a long way to helping to prevent, um, you know, packing on the pounds during this time.

JOHN WHYTE: Ashley, your tips?

ASHLEY KOFF: I loved those. Um, so my first tip would be to eat a rainbow. Not from Skittles or Froot Loops, but to try to get in a rainbow every day. And the better nutrition rainbow can include brown and white, so things like cauliflower and mushroom.

But not being too concerned about which green is better for you or which orange, you know, and definitely spices can help you meet your rainbow. It's a fun game you can do with your kids as well. So I'd focus on, number one, a rainbow.

The second thing, and it kind of goes to what Anahad was talking about with the intermittent-- or with the time restriction, you'd probably best to keep your eating or your nutrition pit stops, because sometimes we're drinking nutrition, to about every three hours.

So that would do better if you space it out and-- as opposed to having a larger amount at one time, to try to space it out. And don't worry so much if it's a meal or a snack. It's really about just trying to pit stop every three hours as opposed to, uh, getting too much in at one time.

And then the third one is we've got to get in water. Water escorts the nutrients inside our cells and it removes waste products from us. Uh, so that's going to-- also helps with our satiety, helps us to feel full. So another thing is, if you actually, every time before you eat, you actually drink maybe six or eight ounces of water, that would be a really good way to, uh, consistently be pit stopping for water to help those nutrients get into the system and waste to be removed, et cetera.

JOHN WHYTE: Ashley and Anahad, I want to thank you for that advice.

ASHLEY KOFF: Thanks a ton.

ANAHAD O'CONNOR: Thanks, John.

JOHN WHYTE: And I want thank you for watching Coronavirus in Context.