By Amy Gear

The pandemic brought a myriad of ‘new normal’ ways of living our lives, some not so welcome! One of those being the extra weight that many, myself included, put on during the lockdowns and isolation periods over the last year and a half.

A study published by JAMA analysed around 270 middle-aged men and women from February to June 2020 and found that participants’ weight increased by approximately 1.5 pounds per month. If that continued into 2021, then the average person may have gained an extra 25 pounds! This is a serious weight gain, possibly leading to a variety of health problems.

The Graze Craze

At the beginning of the pandemic, I admit, I was one of those annoying people running the roads every day, delighted with all the free time. I indulged in springtime walks of 8 to 10 kilometres a day, caught up on housework and that book that had been lying idle on the bedside locker for longer than I had intended. 

Then I found out I was pregnant. Even though it was early days, I was conscious of trying not to overdo it, so exercise slowed way down. I think that is when the boredom set in.

Shifting hormones and the added stress of looking after myself and this little person growing inside me saw me spending the better part of my days endlessly searching for some snack that would satisfy me. A satisfaction that sadly would never come. Grazing all day on everything and anything, from grilled cheese toasties or crackers with cheese and relish to fun-size chocolate bars and large “sharing” bags of crisps. 

I would spend the week enthusiastically waiting for the weekly trip to the supermarket. This was my new ‘day out’. Eating became a hobby as I roamed the aisles, searching for new and exciting things to try. The weekend takeaway became the only thing we had to look forward to. This saw a definite shift in scales. 

Emotional eaters know the struggles, and being pregnant brought extra pressure to stay healthy. So the overindulging led to guilt, which led to even more junk food consumption. Sadly I had adopted an “I’m going to get huge anyways” attitude towards dieting.

Stress and anxiety can lead to overeating, especially for those with eating disorders. The lockdown lack of support drove this even further.

Too Much Screen Time

Being confined to my 5km radius was difficult; I could only walk the same road so many times before wanting it to swallow me whole. It was more than just physical isolation. It was a mental one too, I was craving to meet another person and chat for a few minutes. 

I am big on family time, and I missed my mammy, siblings, and my young nieces and nephews. It just wasn’t the same texting and doing video calls. I craved the fun and spontaneity of real communication with others.

My partner was on the front lines, working five days a week. My current job was closed due to the pandemic, so a feeling of uselessness set in. With little else to do, days were spent watching too much tv, binge-watching shows until late at night, and not getting up until late the next morning. 

For those working from home, much of their day was spent at a computer screen. When my job resumed, I had to work from home for a while, and I found that this led to even more snacking. Once again, grazing all day. 

Kids Were Affected Too!

Children reportedly gained weight too. Researchers found pediatric obesity increased from 13.7% to 15.4% during the pandemic. This was caused by the same factors: high levels of stress and anxiety, too much time in front of screens, poor sleep and lack of routine that can boost hunger and comfort food cravings.

Screen time was a huge factor. I was teaching from home and dealt with countless parents worrying about too much screen time. Phones and computers used for fun were now their access to virtual schooling and their only way of socially interacting. 

With the vaccine rollout, people are getting out more again, and activities are resuming, so 2021 has seen brighter days. 

My focus is now on my beautiful baby girl and less on what my next meal will be! We all know how hard it can be to shed those unwanted pounds, particularly that dreaded baby belly for us mums. But I have found that it is all about taking little steps: getting out for regular exercise, even short walks and eating comfort foods in moderation but not restricting anything. 

Being pregnant helped me to get over my fear of the scales. I gave up that weekly check-in early on in my pregnancy. I believe that change helped me, post-baby, to lose weight at a steadier pace, focusing more on how my clothes fit and, more importantly, how I feel.