QUESTIONS? CALL 1-800-448-4919 M-F 9AM-6PM EST

5 tips for losing those pandemic pounds

By Dr. Sharon Stills, NMD

World health officials have declared the Covid-19 pandemic to be officially over. However, most of us still carry a very unwelcome memento from this difficult time in the form of excess weight.

woman trying to lose the pandemic pounds

Nearly 60% of women in the US have reported gaining excess weight since Covid came on the scene in 2020, packing on an average of 12.5 unwanted pounds. Some women said they gained more than twice that amount, or more. Women who were already overweight were more susceptible to further weight gain during the pandemic.

Looking back at all that time spent inside with gyms closed and access to grocery stores limited, it’s easy to understand why we gained weight. But if you’ve been trying to lose your “pandemic pounds,” you’ve probably already discovered how challenging this can be — despite all of your old diet tricks.

How can these pandemic pounds possibly be more stubborn than regular weight gain? There’s actually a very simple explanation.

It’s stress.

When you’re under chronic stress — and who hasn’t been over the past few years? — your body’s “fight or flight” response is triggered constantly, which causes hormonal changes that disrupt the way your body uses calories and stores fat. When you’re under constant stress, your body starts hanging on to every single calorie you consume — just in case you need that fuel to flee danger.

On top of this, your adrenal glands produce excess stress hormones, creating another hormonal imbalance. If your weight gain during the pandemic showed up as added belly fat, it’s an almost sure sign that cortisol (the primary stress hormone) is being produced at higher than normal levels. Cortisol affects fat distribution by causing fat to be stored centrally around the organs in your midsection. This type of fat cell then emits signals that further impair your hormonal balance — a cascade of problems!

Now for the good news: losing “stress weight” is possible. Here are 5 simple steps you can take to balance your stress response, recalibrate your hormones and lose those stubborn pandemic pounds.

5 tips for shedding pandemic “stress weight”

Feed your body stress-fighting foods

Certain foods are excellent sources for nutrients that help to calm your body’s stress response and rebalance cortisol levels, removing these blocks to weight loss. Stress-fighting foods are also perfect for sustainable weight loss because they can form the basis of a low glycemic, whole foods-based diet — aka, a “no gimmick” diet that works! As you plan healthy meals and snacks, try to include these stress-fighting favorites:

  • Wild caught salmon provides protein to stabilize blood sugars and curb excess production of cortisol. Salmon also contains beneficial amounts of Omega-3s to help boost mood and emotional well-being, two key ingredients to keep you motivated on your weight loss journey.
  • Dark leafy greens provide magnesium, a vital mineral to support the adrenal glands in regulating cortisol and balancing other stress hormones. Try organic kale, spinach and mustard greens.
  • Vitamins C, E and B5 each play a starring role in supporting your body’s healthy stress response. For Vitamin C, try oranges, apples, carrots, and red and orange peppers. Foods rich in Vitamin E include avocados, almonds and asparagus. For Vitamin B5, stock up on eggs, lentils and split peas.

Eat larger meals earlier in the day

Cortisol follows a natural cycle that corresponds to your circadian (sleep/wake) rhythm. Normally, cortisol is highest in the early morning and declines gradually throughout the day to help you get ready for sleep. Because eating always increases cortisol, it’s ideal to eat larger meals earlier in the day as a way to help cortisol fall back into its regular pattern. Intermittent fasting may be helpful for rebalancing cortisol. You can also try a high quality natural stress support supplement to help you relax into “rest and digest” mode later in the day, and bring cortisol back into balance.

Ditch the sugar and refined carbs

When your blood sugar spikes, so does cortisol production. To lose weight, you want to provide your body with foods that maintain healthy blood sugar balance — and that means getting rid of refined carbohydrates and all the foods that send your blood sugar on a roller coaster. When you’re stressed, it’s easy to turn to sugary foods and drinks, but these just add to the vicious cycle of stress weight gain.  Make note of foods that you might not normally consider “sweet,” including wine, sourdough bread, sauces and smoothies with added sugars.

Try exercises that help you de-stress

Vigorous exercise can trip the body’s fight or flight response, creating a surge in stress hormone production. This is why engaging in high intensity exercise often doesn’t do much for weight loss when you’re under chronic stress; strenuous exercise can actually amplify a stress hormone imbalance and keep stress weight stuck in place.

Listen to your body. Do you feel better or worse after your daily workout? If exercise is leaving you wiped out instead of rejuvenated, start engaging in exercise that actively supports your stress response. Yoga is one of the most effective tools at our disposal because it’s a gentle, relaxing practice that helps to re-regulate out of control stress hormones — plus, it’s a good workout! Studies support yoga’s effectiveness for weight loss, so why not give it a try?

Find social connection

In case there was any doubt about the mind-body connection: research shows that feelings of loneliness are powerful enough to trigger increased cortisol production. Given this, it’s no wonder weight gain was so common during the pandemic. It was a lonely time.

If you still haven’t rejoined the gym or shown up for that outdoor summer yoga class you used to love pre-Covid, it’s time to put the pandemic behind you and start new social habits. Reach out to friends and family and see what fun social events you can do together. Concerts, festivals, community dance classes…get out there and have fun. 

Your stress weight has been around for a few years now, so give yourself time to help your body release it. Forget about crash dieting and quick weight loss. Unrealistic goals just put your body under more stress — and they rarely lead to lasting results.

The ultimate tip for losing stress weight? Feel gratitude for the body that has supported you throughout a difficult time. You can’t heal a body you hate, so focus on nourishing yourself with supportive body-positive affirmations, nutrient-dense food, gentle exercise, natural stress support and mood-boosting social connections. It all helps! 

You may be happily surprised by how quickly those stubborn pounds fall away when you simply start supporting your body’s natural balance.

  Need help for weight gain related to perimenopause? Find new solutions in our article Demystifying perimenopausal weight gain.



Last Updated: November 17, 2023
on top