RICHMOND, Va. – COVID-19 turned daily life upside down and, for many, the stress led to troublesome eating habits and body-image problems.
An American Psychological Association report found more than 60% of adults experienced weight gain or weight loss during the pandemic. Connie Sobczak, a body-image expert, co-founder of the nonprofit The Body Positive and author of the book “Embody,” said the pandemic confirmed just how harmful stress is to the human body. While making changes in eating and exercise habits, she said folks need to take a gentle approach with themselves and be less judgmental.
“It’s really important to be kind and gentle with our bodies,” she said, “and recognize and honor that they helped us survive, when so many people didn’t.”
She recommended not going on a diet because it will likely backfire. Instead, she suggested slowly making changes to increase movement in your daily life – and then start eating more nutritious foods.
The pandemic also forced many people to sit in front of screens all day, whether online learning or telecommuting, further disrupting exercise and eating routines. While some overate during the lockdown, said Dr. Donna O’Shea, chief medical officer for population health at United Healthcare, others developed eating disorders, especially teens.
“We see both ends of the spectrum,” she said. “People who had excess snacking, but we also see that in others, the same kind of stress caused them to not eat, and to really put their health at risk.”
O’Shea said summer weather might inspire folks to get back outdoors. While getting back into shape, she noted it’s important to focus on proper nutrition, getting enough sleep – and daily exercise, such as walking.
“Walking has a host of health benefits,” she said. “It can help us maintain a healthier weight, it can help ward off depression, prevent or manage chronic conditions – and really, just help that stress in the middle of the day.”
United Healthcare is offering a free online program to motivate people to make health a priority this summer; it’s online at UHCStepUp.com.