February 19, 2021

Snack, Sleep, Repeat? Reversing Unhealthy Habits in a Pandemic

AdventHealth, for Southern Tidings

This health news is not intended to be a substitute or supersede the advice of your health care professional. The Seventh-day Adventist Church promotes a balanced vegetarian diet free of stimulants and alcohol, in an environment free of tobacco smoke—Editors

After months of varying levels of coronavirus restrictions, where people have been “locked down” with more snacks and stress and less sleep and activity than ever before, “gaining the COVID-19 pounds” is a pretty common joke. But, is it possible to lose — not gain — weight in a pandemic?

It was for Yamiley Polycarpe, a registered nurse at AdventHealth Altamonte Springs in Florida, United States. Polycarpe, who suffered from high blood pressure, started her wellness journey in March 2020, at the very start of quarantine in much of the United States. She has lost 50 pounds [22.7 kilograms].

“I said, ‘I don’t care what’s going on, I’m going to make sure I’m eating right,’ ” Polycarpe recalled. “I just said what I was going to do, and I just went with it.”

Throughout the pandemic, states and countries around the world have issued stay-at-home orders to combat the spread of COVID-19. A study published in the Obesity Society research journal reported on the habits developed during these lockdown periods:

  • About 44 percent of the participants reported an increase in unhealthful snacking.
  • Physical activity significantly decreased by 18 minutes per week.
  • Forty-four percent of the participants reported worse sleep quality.
  • Weight gain occurred in 33 percent of the individuals with obesity.

Instead of continuing these negative lifestyle behaviors in her own life, Polycarpe enrolled in two weight loss programs, including “New Day, New Weigh” by the AdventHealth Diabetes Institute. Through it, she was connected to a nutritionist, exercise specialist, endocrinologist, and behavioral health specialist.

“Before starting the program, I was eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted,” Polycarpe said. “I wasn’t exercising, and I would go to sleep at one or two in the morning, and I would wake up the next day and not eat until noon. I wasn't thinking about it even though I knew I needed to take care of myself.”

Sherri Flynt, nutritional excellence manager at AdventHealth’s Center for Nutritional Excellence, said that the foods people typically gravitate toward in times of stress (like a pandemic) are more refined foods like potato chips and candies, which increase inflammation and weaken the immune system.

“We need to flip our mindset to getting more plant-based foods,” she said. “Maybe not being vegan or vegetarian, but putting more plant and natural foods on our plate. The closer we eat to the ground, the better.”

In terms of exercise, Polycarpe has taken this time to enjoy workout DVDs at home and safe, socially distant family bike rides around the neighborhood.

“I want people to know COVID is very poorly transmitted outside. So, people really would do well to get outside and get some sunshine in their eyes. Sunshine increases serotonin,” George Guthrie, a board-certified family physician in the AdventHealth Medical Group, said. Serotonin is the essential hormone that stabilizes mood and feelings of happiness.

Polycarpe said she is already experiencing many benefits. Her blood pressure has gone down significantly, and her weight and inches have been “falling off.”

“My clothes fit better; I smile more,” she said. “I’m happier because I’m healthy, and I can do more with my family because I’m not tired and sluggish like I was before.”

To reverse unhealthy habits one may have developed in the pandemic, Flynt suggests being mindful and intentional and writing down a plan for what you will eat, how you will move, and when you will rest.

“Never discount those baby steps,” she said.

The original version of this story was posted by Southern Tidings.