The coronavirus pandemic brought so many unexpected changes in 2020 and impacted everything from our health, safety, and survival to our small, everyday habits. Unlike any other time in recent history, we were restricted to staying at home, making meals in our own kitchens, and trying to stay active in whatever space we had. For anyone looking to stay healthy, these unique circumstances presented a really tough challenge.
“People were concerned about gaining weight due to spending so much time at home during the pandemic, and the phrase ‘Quarantine 15’ was coined,” says Stephanie Ferrari, MS, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist from FRESH Communications. “People were also feeling the need for comfort foods during times of high stress—understandably so.”
However, as lockdowns dragged on, these pressures eventually gave way to a new wave of compassion and understanding. “There was a movement toward body acceptance, and a lot of encouragement and positivity came out of that,” says Ferrari. “I personally really liked seeing people supporting each other and giving each other ‘permission’ to allow for the occasional indulgence during such a challenging time.”
For many of us, this past year also forced us to reevaluate our lifestyles and begin to manage our health and wellness from a mental health lens, says Melissa Majumdar, MS, RD, CSOWM, LDN, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “It meant redefining the boundaries between work and home, shifting habits, and transitioning into new everyday routines.”
“We’ve been forced to pivot often and learn resilience,” says Majumdar. “While overall challenging, the trends towards focusing on mental health can be looked at as a silver lining.”
To that end, we asked nutritionists for their best weight loss tips of 2020 that helped their clients make it through this unprecedented year. Read on, and for more weight loss advice, make sure to check out these 15 Underrated Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work.
“Keto, low-carb diets, and intermittent fasting were popular in 2020, but there has also been a strong trend toward plant-based eating. Who would have guessed that tempeh and plant-based burgers would be in short supply at the grocery store this year?” says Sue Heikkinen, MS, RD, registered dietitian and certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist with MyNetDiary. “A pandemic-fueled focus on health, environmental concerns, financial constraints, and increased availability of tasty and convenient meat alternatives are all likely factors in this interest in plant-based eating.” For healthy plant-based meal ideas, here are 33 plant-based recipes you’ll love.
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“This is one of the easiest and most effective ways to remind yourself to eat healthy,” says Ferrari. “Instead of burying fruits and veggies in the drawers of your fridge, display beautiful bowls of fruit on the table and keep veggies at eye-line in the fridge. This might help you opt for these low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods when you’re hungry.” (While you’re at it, try this #1 fruit hack for weight loss.)
“Drink, drink, drink. According to the Mayo Clinic, the average adult man should drink about 15.5 cups of water a day, and the average woman should have 11.5,” says Jonathan Valdez, owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “If you’re active, it’s hot out, and/or you’re sweating, pregnant, or breastfeeding, you need even more. Start by having a glass right when you wake up and another before bedtime. If you’re bad about remembering to drink, set a reminder on your phone.”
“It doesn’t have to be a gourmet meal either. Restaurant meals tend to be higher in sodium, saturated fat, sugar, and overall calories,” says Jerlyn Jones, MS, MPA, RDN, LD, CLT, registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “If you do order out, choose grilled, roasted, baked, steamed, or broiled, and soup, fruit, or salad as sides.”
“If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that keeping your kitchen well-stocked with healthy items is a good idea,” says Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN, author of The Small Change Diet. “Those items also needn’t be fresh, as canned and frozen veggies, fruit and legumes, can also help create healthy meals.” Here are the 16 best frozen foods for weight loss.
“Self-care looks different for everyone, but has never been more important. Identifying how you can care for and respect yourself could make a difference in being okay right now,” says Majumdar. “Now more than ever, you have permission to listen to what you need, whether it’s a hot bath or locking the bedroom door for an hour to be away from the rest of the family. Respecting yourself, your thoughts, and your time are trendy this year, so allow yourself to jump on this trend.” Speaking of, treat yourself with one of these great wellness gifts.
“2020 was undoubtedly a year for baking. While there is nothing like the smell of brownies or sourdough bread fresh from the oven, most of us don’t need all the extra calories,” says Heikkinen. “Continue your rediscovered love of the kitchen by expanding your range of cooking methods. Perfect your stir-fry and grilling techniques. Try satisfying salads made with hearty grains such as this Mediterranean Quinoa salad. Make use of your slow cooker or Instant Pot: soups and stews are classic comfort foods that can be nutritious. Use your air fryer for a new twist on vegetables, such as crispy kale chips, sweet potato fries, or lightly breaded cauliflower.” To get inspired, here are 100+ best healthy recipes for weight loss.
“I am a HUGE fan of meal planning. Take some of the extra time at home and put it toward cooking healthy foods on a Sunday,” says Ferrari. “Stock your fridge with roasted veggies, sweet potatoes, quinoa, chopped veggies and hummus, etc. When you take the thinking out of meal time, it makes it a lot easier to choose something healthy instead of ordering the pizza! (Although, pizza is okay too sometimes…we all need pizza.)”
“Intermittent fasting (IF) also became popular because of its ability to help people lose weight quickly. There are even theories out there that it can aid in improving metabolic health and extending lifespan adding to its increasing trendiness,” says Genki. “Classic intermittent fasting is done in a 16:8 split; meaning there is an 8-hour window during the day in which you are allowed to eat and the other 16 you’ll have fasted. During the fasting period, coffee, water, and calorie-free beverages are allowed.”
According to Genki, other forms of the diet include the 5:2 method where you can eat normally 5 days per week and 2 days consist of eating only 500-600 calories. There’s also the eat, stop, eat method, which is similar to 5:2, except for two days you completely fast.
“This diet does not put restrictions on the type of foods you can eat, however, it will not work if you use the allotted eating time to over-indulge,” says Genki. “While IF may work for some, many have criticized the diet for its promotion of disordered eating behaviors.”
“Increase portion sizes of nutrient-dense foods that keep you feeling full, such as fruit, whole grains like millet or oatmeal, beans, and vegetables,” says Jones. “Eat balanced meals that contain protein, heart-healthy fats, and complex carbs so you don’t feel hungry.” Here are the 100 healthiest foods of 2020.
“Research indicating an increase in COVID-19 symptoms severity with obesity and diabetes has driven people to focus on weight loss for health reasons rather than physical appearance,” says Heikkinen. “While fitting into your clothes is a bonus, health is a powerful and lasting motivator.”
“Enjoyment is in, deprivation is out. If you love pasta, eat pasta. What’s important is that you try and create a healthier dish,” says Gans. “For example, instead of a huge bowl of Fettucine Alfredo, you create a pasta dish with grilled shrimp, sautéed spinach with garlic and oil, tossed with linguini.” Here are 35+ healthy pasta recipes for weight loss.
“Desserts are comforting and they taste great. But there are ways to have your cake and limit sugar too. I use Swerve, a natural sugar replacement that measures cup-for-cup with sugar. It’s a zero-calorie replacement and tastes amazing. I use it for granular, brown, and confectioners.”
“Short bursts of exercise during the work day are a great way to keep your energy up and burn a few extra calories. Every couple of hours or so, stand up, do some stretches, run in place, do some jumping jacks or push-ups–anything really!” says Ferrari. “When we work at home, we tend to reach for the snacks during our breaks. By replacing the snacks with a few short bursts of physical activity, we are avoiding the extra calories and instead doing something good for our bodies and minds. A little endorphins go a long way in 2020 (and beyond).” Here are 25 easy exercises to make you feel great.
“Get adequate sleep. Ever notice that when you’re tired, you’re also hungrier? When you don’t get enough sleep, production of Leptin, a hunger-suppressing hormone, decreases, while production of Ghrelin, a hormone that increases hunger levels, rises. You are actually biologically setting yourself up to want to eat more by sleeping less,” says Genki. “Without enough sleep, your body also produces higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, a known belly-fat offender. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, get rid of any screens (no TV or phones) an hour before bed, or try downloading a meditation app to help relax.” Get better zzz’s with the 12 best bedtime foods for weight loss.
“We know that chronic stress can impact health, increasing risks of high blood pressure, stroke, and/or heart disease. This year has challenged many of our coping skills, but there’s no time like the present to hone in on what works for you, and professionals can support those efforts,” says Majumdar. “Many registered dietitians, nutritionists, and mental health providers are offering virtual visits, providing easier access to care. Building in a session with a therapist to explore the roots of stress and develop new ways to manage it can be done without the commute, and you now have access to a larger pool of providers, helping you find a good match.”
“Keeping a food-mood diary may help identify any mindless snacking or grazing that could be preventing weight loss. Include these topics: what kind of food or drink, how much, when, where, who with, activity, and mood,” says Jones. “Are you eating because you’re bored? Sad? Or tired? A food-mood diary helps point out emotions that trigger you to eat.”
“This stressful year has caused people to become aware of their tendency to turn to food for comfort,” says Heikkinen. “While indulging in your favorite comfort food is indeed soothing in the short-term, it can lead to weight gain and an unhealthy relationship with food over the long-term if it’s your primary coping strategy.” Here are 5 ways to quit emotional eating for good.
“Allow yourself a treat if you want it and then move on. It’s ok to enjoy a cookie or a piece of cake every now and again. If you deprive yourself, you’re more likely to fixate on the food and end up creating some unhealthy behaviors,” says Genki. “Listen to your body. Allow yourself the treat if you really want it. Savor it and move on. You’ll find that eventually, you won’t care about that piece of cake that’s been in the fridge as much anymore when you know you can have it at any time.”
I’ve heard from many people that remote working and the kitchen’s constant lure have made it difficult to curb their eating, leading to weight gain. When they were working in an office, it just wasn’t an option to grab a bite to eat whenever a craving hit,” says Heikkinen. “Focus on the changes you can make to your home environment to support your weight loss goals. What is the first thing you see when you open the fridge? Is it tempting takeout food or a container of washed and cut veggies? Store baked goods in the freezer, or at least out of sight.”
For more tips, read up on the unhealthiest diets of the year that you should not try in 2021.