The unprecedented global pandemic of COVID-19 has been the perfect setup for packing on pounds.  The unexpected disruption of daily routines and habits, stress eating, less physical activity, high anxiety, sleepless nights…has all set the stage for unwanted weight gain that ultimately could lead to health and medical issues in the future.

If your jeans have gotten a bit snugger or the numbers on the scale has jumped, don’t panic. You’re not alone. People worldwide have reported modest gains of between 1 and 9 pounds with a minority (only 4 percent) stating a gain of more than 20 pounds. Give yourself some slack if you’ve gained some weight – none of us have ever experienced the drama of a pandemic before.

Meanwhile, here’s a look at what you can do to successfully lose weight gained over the last two months of coronavirus lockdown. Likely you’re familiar with the usual advice such as portion control, eat three meals a day, or to move more.  While this advice is still wise to follow, let’s stray from the norm safely helping jumpstart your way back to your pre-COVID-19 weight.

Use foods for a metabolism boost

Your metabolism is what determines the rate at which you burn calories just to do daily activities of living. This includes the unconscious acts your body naturally does such as breathing, digesting food, circulating blood, or regulating heart rate or body temperature.  

Certain foods can speed up or slow down metabolism, potentially affecting weight loss.  But it’s not as simple as “eat this to boost metabolism and lose weight.” What we eat matters especially when it comes to promoting satiety. However, if you eat too few of calories, then your body will try to reserve its energy stores slowing metabolism down.

While there is no one food that magically revs up metabolism leading to weight gain, certain foods can give a temporary boost as long as you eat them in moderation.

Best foods to help boost metabolism:

  • Chili peppers – If you’re a fan of red-hot chili peppers, you may have a slight edge over friends who can’t take the heat. Capsaicin, an active ingredient in chili peppers, helps speed up metabolism playing a small role in weight loss according to a 2017 study in Bioscience Report.
  • Beans – Full of satiating protein, the protein found in beans helps with muscle mass preservation which ultimately will burn more calories when your body is at rest. Any food that promotes or preserves muscle mass is always good for speeding up metabolism.
  • Avocadoes – High in healthy monounsaturated fats, which promote satiety, a 2013 study in Nutrition Journal, found that adding half an avocado at lunch reduces desire to eat in the hours following a meal.
  • Eggs – Again, thanks to their high protein content, eggs are not only low in calories but also help stave off hunger. They’re also a good source of B vitamins which have been shown to boost metabolism by converting food into energy.
  • Whole grains – Full of fill-you-up fiber, whole grains such as farro, brown rice, whole wheat bread and spaghetti, are also anti-inflammatory which may be beneficial for weight management.

Worst foods for boosting metabolism:

  • Refined grains – White bread/flour, pasta, donuts, cookies, and white rice can sabotage weight loss. Refined grains lack fiber, key nutrients and can spike blood sugar levels. A steady diet of refined grains can make you feel sluggish and tired increasing hunger.
  • Sugary beverages – High in calories, no fiber, and can send blood sugar soaring, all spell disaster in any attempts in boosting metabolism.
  • Alcohol – Loaded with calories, can cause sugar cravings, blood sugar takes a nosedive, and can leave you feeling unmotivated to exercise, are all good reasons to say “no thanks” to alcohol.
  • Granola – You may consider it a health food, but granola is high in calories, fat, and sugar causing blood sugar swings making you feel hungrier.

Herbs and spices for a weight loss boost

Primarily used for replacing salt to season foods to lower heart health risks in addition to numerous other health benefits, herbs and spices may also help you drop a few pounds offering unique slim-down advantages. Here’s a look at ones to consider:

  • Curry Powder – Widely used in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes, this spice contains fenugreek, a component of curry powder that helps suppress fat cravings as it helps lower blood sugar levels too.
  • Cumin – Here’s one to add to your spice rack. Several studies have shown that cumin helps reduce body fat. Commonly used in Hispanic foods, a teaspoon of cumin can be stirred into hummus for an extra kick keeping you fuller longer.
  • Rosemary – This favorite herb is naturally rich in carnosic acid, a substance that keeps off pounds by inhibiting the formation of fat cells. Add rosemary to poultry dishes, Italian foods, and even in breads.

Make friends with your scale

Stepping on a weight scale can be one of your best allies in fighting COVID-19 weight gain. While you may avoid seeing what number registers on the scale, this only puts you in denial of how fast you may be gaining. Daily weighing is advisable; weigh only one time a day – in the morning after waking up – with little to no clothes on and after using the toilet. That’s it.  This simple step will help you “catch” any weight gain right away reminding you to modify your daily eating and exercise habits. Monitoring weight on a regular basis is a form of accountability and self-monitoring and consistent self-monitoring is associated with improved weight loss.

Limit TV watching

The more TV or any screen time you do (computer, video games, etc,) is associated with weight gain. The National Weight Control Registry showed that the most successful at losing excess pounds reported watching 10 or fewer hours of television per week.

If working from home, keep your office out of your kitchen

Since the lockdown, many of us are working from home which may continue indefinitely. If your workspace is in your kitchen near the fridge and food, this is not ideal for avoiding temptation of frequent snack breaks. If you can, adjust your setup and move your office to a different part of your home.  Otherwise, set a schedule for yourself such as, after eating breakfast, you are not allowed to open the fridge until 10 am for a mid-morning snack.  Provide the structure you normally would have if working in an office.

Step outside

A change of scenery can do wonders. Especially when stressed. And we all know this pandemic has been quite stress-provoking which can lead to stress eating. A 2019 study has shown that even just 20 minutes in nature can significantly reduce stress hormone levels.

“Earn” the amount of time you spend on screen time

Sitting at a computer for hours, whether doing Zoom work calls, socializing, or shopping online or staying inside binge-watching TV shows, easily add up to several hundred fewer calories burned per day.  To prevent a deluge of too much time spent sitting, practice “earning” your right to be on a device. For example, for each hour you spend on the computer or watching TV, you would do at least 20 minutes of some form of activity.  The activity has to be anything other than sitting – going for a walk, gardening, cleaning house, or simply standing while talking on the phone. Set reminders on your phone or other devices to keep track of time spent sitting.

In conclusion

Weight gain is normal during stressful times but it doesn’t have to be inevitable. Practicing certain steps to blunt the amount you may gain, helps you emerge better equipped to avoid developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure down the road. Plan for you future now to enjoy a healthier life ahead.

Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy.  Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.