25 Nov Quarantine 15: How To Lose The Pandemic Weight Gain
Anxiety. Stress. Being at home close to snacks and sweets. All of this is a recipe for weight gain. Don’t feel bad if you’ve gained weight since the beginning of the pandemic.
So many people have, that it has been given a name, the “Quarantine 15”.
I was already more than 15 pounds overweight at the beginning of the pandemic in March and was determined not to gain more weight. With attention to my diet, I’ve been able to lose 14 pounds in 6 months. I’d like to share my story and some tips with you.
My Diet Plan
I thought it was impossible to lose weight. As a child, I’d always been a normal weight but never thin. As a teen and young adult, I was very active and athletic which controlled my weight. After injuries in my 30s, I was no longer able to competitively dance. Before I knew it, I’d gained 25 pounds! After age 40, the pounds slowly crept up and we’ve all heard it, “Losing weight in your 40s is hard. Losing weight in your 50s is impossible.” I decided to challenge that.
I tried increasing exercise, even went on a bike tour of a couple hundred miles the summer before… and didn’t lose a pound! I was convinced it must be my age and that my metabolism had changed. Sure, all my labs looked great. No insulin resistance. Cortisol normal. Blood glucose normal. Hemoglobin A1c normal. Thyroid hormones normal. What could it be? Diet possibly? Calories? Yes and yes! I decided to follow a low carb diet but to do so, I needed to keep track of what I was eating.
Tip number one: keep a written record of what you eat.
Download the app of your choice. Record everything you eat. The app will translate that into percentage and grams of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, sugars. This is so important because we often lose track of what we eat and lack an awareness of the high amount of carbohydrates and lack of protein in our daily diet. I found it was very easy to eat as much as 40%, or even 50%, of my calories from carbohydrates. You might be thinking that this is OK if it was all from vegetables and fruit.
Tip number two: fruit is great because it contains a lot of vitamins, but most fruits contain equal carb units to rice and bread.
Anyway, back to carbohydrate load. I personally found it impossible to lose weight if I ate over 30% carbohydrates in one day. By using an app, I became familiar with what foods kept me under 30%. It’s not all about carbs!
Tip number three: to maintain muscle, eat enough protein.
How much protein is enough? 18% of calories need to be from protein in order not to lose lean muscle mass while dieting. This 18% rule is only when dieting. I personally set my goal at 30%. Trust me, it’s difficult. I found trying to eat 30% protein more difficult than keeping my carbohydrate intake under 20%. FYI, low carb diets are typically around 20% carbohydrate intake. The ketogenic diet sets carbohydrate intake at 10%.
The ketogenic diet is great for rapid weight loss.
I never recommend it unless you’re under the care of a doctor. It’s very important to know that your kidneys are in good working order before you start a ketogenic diet. It’s also not a healthy diet long-term and too often, I see my patients gain back all the weight they lost. The best diet is one that you can live with for the rest of your life. For example, I lose weight quickly when I only have 20% of my calories from carbohydrates.
This is not something I want to do for the rest of my life but I know that I can maintain my weight with 40% of my calories from carbohydrates. This is something I can live with and it’s something I know because I’ve tracked my calories for six months. With that handy app: I see what helps me lose, what makes me maintain, and what makes me gain!
Tip number four: calories do matter.
If you overeat, you will gain. Losing weight requires restricting calories. It’s not fun. If I have a big breakfast, I’ll often just have celery sticks with peanut butter for lunch. Whenever I stall out on weight loss, it never fails that I am eating 100 cal more than my goal. You see, I no longer keep track of my calories every day. I let my weight tell me if I should. When I stop losing weight, I start tracking my calories again.
I personally found it easier to lose weight since the beginning of the pandemic. Much of my job is now remote. I’m seeing patients virtually. Yes, like you, there are snacks and sweets in the house. But being at home more, I am able to prepare home-cooked meals more often than before the pandemic. It gives me more control over my diet and by eating full meals, I snack less and have less sweet cravings.
Tip number five: eat what is in season.
If you’re dieting, you want your food to taste good. This summer, I have the biggest vegetable garden I’ve ever had. I ate fresh tomatoes, zucchini, greens, lettuce, sweet peppers. If you’re unable to garden at home, visit your local farmers market. What to do in winter time? I’ll let you know in a couple of months. Without a doubt, it is more challenging to diet in the winter when fresh vegetables are not as plentiful.
Tip number six: intermittent fasting may help you lose weight.
Intermittent fasting has not worked for all of my patients. Personally, I didn’t see it help me lose weight but I do not have high insulin. For my patients with high insulin, they typically see weight loss with intermittent fasting but unfortunately, it’s often short-lived. I’ve seen their weight loss stall after 1-2 months. Sometimes, a fasting mimicking diet can help in these cases more often, it takes more tweaking of their diet. Because intermittent fasting can affect blood sugar levels, I recommend speaking with a doctor before trying intermittent fasting.
Tip number seven: don’t eat after sundown.
This isn’t just your grandmother’s advice. Eating causes elevations in cortisol. Cortisol causes insulin resistance. Insulin resistance causes weight gain. Why is this a problem at night? You can’t burn it off when you’re sleeping. Not to mention, elevations and cortisol can cause insomnia. Ideally, your card is all his lower at night time. More about that later.
Tried all the weight loss strategies?
If you’ve tried all of these strategies, it may be that you have an underlying metabolic issue. Insulin resistance. Diabetes. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). And underlying thyroid disorder. Mismanaged hypothyroidism. In these cases, you need to seek help from a functional naturopathic doctor.
Being overweight or obese, increases your risk of 35 major diseases. Even a 3% reduction in body weight can have a significant benefit for those with diabetes, osteoarthritis, hypertension, and high cholesterol. And as you know, being obese, increases your risk of complications to COVID-19. Losing weight right now has never been more important.
Is there a hormonal connection to weight gain and/or inability to lose weight? Yes. Hormones affect weight and increased weight affect hormones. In fact, increased body fat elevates levels of estrogen and insulin promoting inflammation.
What about thyroid?
Are you worried that you might have a thyroid problem? You might, and hypothyroidism is often under diagnosed in middle-aged women. Getting thyroid hormones within optimal range can eliminate barriers to weight loss. For this reason, I ran a full thyroid panel on all my patients who have an inability to lose weight.
High amounts of cortisol, and adrenal hormone which is released under stress, increases deposition of fat. Cortisol is blamed for that notorious tire around the middle. People with abdominal obesity tend to have high cortisol levels. Unfortunately, stress cortisol also makes us crave sugar. It can be a vicious circle! How to break it? See your naturopathic doctor.
Naturopathic doctors use both saliva and urine to measure cortisol levels through the day. I do not do this for every patient but recommend it for those trying to lose weight. In addition, this sort of testing is highly recommended for people who suffer from chronic fatigue and insomnia.
A lesser known adrenal hormone is DHEA. DHEA is a precursor to the sex hormones but it also plays a role in weight maintenance and stability. For this reason, I like to make sure that DHEA is always within optimal range. This is especially important for menopausal women because DHEA is sometimes very low in menopause.
Is weight loss impossible in perimenopause and menopause?
No. That was the challenge I took on. Yes, it’s more difficult to lose weight when you’re older but not impossible. In my 20s, exercise always maintained my weight. Being a dancer, I had to eat a couple of slices of cheesecake every week in order to maintain my weight. Otherwise, I would lose weight uncontrollably. Those were the days!
If I even look at cheesecake now, I gain weight.
Bio identical hormone replacement therapy supports menopausal women’s metabolism and can aid in weight loss. Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone all influence weight.
Why is it so hard to lose weight in menopause?
It’s mostly due to changes in estrogen. Estrogen increases insulin sensitivity. With increased insulin sensitivity, you’re able to metabolize carbohydrates better. That being said, it’s the opposite which can be a problem for women in perimenopause or with PCOS, polycystic ovarian syndrome. In these cases, it is too much estrogen which causes weight gain.
This is why naturopathic functional doctors talk about hormone balance. For menopausal women, I work with them to get their estrogen up to an optimal level can you promote weight loss. For women in perimenopause who have high estrogen or women with PCOS, I work with them to get their estrogen levels decreased.
Have you had negative experiences with birth control or hormone replacement therapy causing weight gain?
Recently, a perimenopausal woman came to see me. She had gained weight after starting hormone replacement therapy. Her doctor had prescribed too much progesterone. Progesterone antagonizes estrogen and can cause weight gain. If your doctor has prescribed progesterone, do not stop it. For women on hormone replacement therapy, it’s essential to take progesterone if you’re also taking estrogen. Progesterone protects the uterus. It’s very important in hormone replacement regimens and well tolerated at the appropriate dose.
Is your weight gain from a lack of testosterone?
It’s possible. Unfortunately, most doctors ignore women’s testosterone levels. A woman’s testosterone levels are nowhere near a man’s but we have testosterone. That testosterone can drop by half or more in menopause. A tell tale sign is a loss of muscle definition or an inability to gain muscle. Bioidentical testosterone cream can aid in weight loss and increase muscle mass. Warning though, a woman does not need a lot of testosterone and unfortunately, I have seen too many doctors prescribe too much testosterone. The result can be uncontrolled irritability, anger, and hair growth in places you don’t want it! For women, a little testosterone goes a long way.
Healthy vs. thin
I have yet to reach my weight loss goal but I’m only a few pounds away. I don’t want to be super thin or the weight I was when I was dancing (125 lbs-all muscle!). I want to be a healthy weight. For me, that’s 145 pounds at 5’4”. I could probably get down to 135 pounds but as we age, it’s a good idea to have a few extra pounds. Studies show that older people with a few extra pounds have better outcomes if they become seriously ill.
Want to work with me?
I’m excited to help other women lose weight and I’m overjoyed to let all perimenopausal and menopausal women know that it is not impossible to lose weight. Optimize your hormones, optimize your weight. If I can do it, you can do it. Contact me, a functional naturopathic doctor specializing in hormone balancing because you can’t lose weight if your hormones are working against you.
Schedule your free phone consultation HERE.
Dr. Kimberly Brown, ND, LAc
San Jose Integrative Medicine
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