The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to weight gain for many Americans.
“During the beginning, I had to start working out outside because the gyms and things like that were closed. So, I made do with what I could,” said Marcus Rogers, a YMCA member.
Each time a weight clanks or someone breathes deep, it’s the sound of someone like Rogers releasing a little bit of stress.
But many of us haven’t been able to release that stress during the pandemic, and that may have caused us to be a little heavier when we step on the scale.
“The more stress people that people were experiencing, the more weight they were gaining,” said Dr. Arthur Evans, the CEO of the American Psychological Association (APA).
The APA has been looking at the impacts of stress and weight gain during the pandemic.
“Americans are gaining weight at a pretty significant level about, about 15 pounds,” said Evans.
About 42% of people surveyed by the APA gained more weight than they intended. In that group, people gained 29 pounds on average.
Fifteen to 30 pounds is no small matter. We asked Cami Woomer, a nutritionist with the YMCA Metro Denver about the relationship between stress and weight gain.
“Stress can be an indicator of weight gain itself. So when people are feeling stressed out, sometimes we go to food, sometimes that means we’re eating more in portions, or we’re eating more throughout the day. Also, stress levels impact our ability to lose weight as well,” said Woomer.
Cortisol is the bodies main stress hormone and several scientific studies have linked cortisol levels to changes in weight. Higher levels of cortisol are also linked to people being less likely to control how much and what they eat.
But not everyone’s stress has risen the same over the course of the last year.
“People who are essential workers had more stress than other people. Parents whose children were doing remote learning were also experiencing more stress. We also found people of color were experiencing more stress and younger people were experiencing more stress,” said Evans.
While that extra stress can lead to weight gain, a healthier lifestyle can help reduce your stress levels.
“Exercise is releasing those endorphins, you’re feeling a little bit better,” said Woomer.
Exercise can also release muscle tension and help regulate cortisol levels.
Certain foods can also have an effect on you.
“Things like caffeine, things that are high in carbohydrates, high in fat, high sodium things can kind of aggravate the stress levels in our body a little bit. And things like whole foods, like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats can help reduce inflammation and stress in our body,” said Woomer.
Stress can be the source of some of your weight gain, but losing a little bit and eating a little better could be your road map pushing out some of the stress in your life.