Many people have noticed that clothes are fitting tighter as the pandemic shutdown keeps going. These pandemic pounds have launched a series of weight loss messages from health professionals promoting a healthy weight to decrease risks associated with COVID-19 disease. However, weight loss during a pandemic comes with additional challenges to consider.
Question: What makes dieting risky during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Answer: Cutting calories for rapid weight loss generally cuts down on the supply of essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals and protein. When nutrient levels drop too low, the function of the immune system can be impaired, reducing the body’s capacity to handle any infection, especially one like COVID-19.
Q: What is the best way to lose those pandemic pounds safely?
A: Take a moderate-dose multivitamin/mineral supplement. The proper function of the immune system is dependent on an adequate supply of several vitamins and minerals. When eating less food, it is difficult to meet these nutrient needs even if you are making more “healthy” food choices. A standard multi can fill the gaps.
Keep or increase high-protein foods in the diet. Cut calories by reducing high-carbohydrate and high-fat foods — not protein. The immune system requires an adequate supply of high-quality protein.
Maintain muscle. During weight loss, the quickest thing, but the worst thing to lose is body protein — mainly in the form of muscles. Muscle tissues use more calories, even at rest, than most other components of the body. So, lose muscle, and the body burns fewer calories, which, of course, makes it harder to keep losing weight or to maintain weight loss.
Exercise enough, but not too much. Protecting body muscle tissues from loss during dieting requires a combination of consuming enough protein and being physically active. Keep in mind that moderate exercise can help to maintain muscle and healthy immune function. However, too little or too much exercise can impair immune system health.
Stay hydrated. During warmer weather, it is easy to get dehydrated. Keep favorite beverages, including water, handy for sipping throughout the day. A simple measure of hydration is the color of urine. If it looks like apple juice, drink more. Bright yellow usually means you recently took a vitamin supplement. Caffeine-containing beverages may pass through a bit quicker, but they still help hydrate.
Aim for gradual loss. Rapid weight loss is not fat loss. If your diet has about 500 calories less than you need each day, that will add up to the loss of about one pound of fat per week. Since something like a 16-ounce coffee temporarily increases weight by a pound, pay more attention to waist size than body weight to monitor successful fat loss.
Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S., and Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S., are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii at Manoa. Dobbs also works with University Health Services.