Effective coronavirus treatments and vaccines are in the hands of the medics and scientists but our own health, weight and fitness is for the most part in our own hands, so people have more control than they think over whether they might be at risk from severe Covid complications.
If you didn’t have a weight problem before Covid kicked off in the UK in 2020 then you’re not alone if you do now. Even celebrities have opened up about eating more comfort food and moving less while quarantined.
We’re all snacking more with easy reach to cupboards at home, and having a daily commute that only leads you from bedroom to kitchen means out daily steps have plummeted. We’ve taken up daily walks and cycle rides and even home workouts, but general moving around has decreased so much we’re not burning as many calories as when living life normally.
The only issue with using BMI is that weight doesn’t say whether it’s fat, muscle, water weight on top of your bones and organs. That’s where estimating your body fat percentage can be helpful as ideally we want to hold on to (or even build) muscle while burning fat
It’s been a stressful year to say the least and food can provide comfort and ease boredom. Alcohol sales are up 35% which further contributes to calorie intake.
We’re cooking more at home but have often turned to baking and comfort foods. Banana bread, home baked crusty bread and baking biscuits with the kids have been high on the nation’s culinary activities. But all this white flour and sugar is very easy to overeat.
Everyone has different energy needs, with men, tall people, and active people normally needing more calories than small adults, women, and inactive people. But when I say active we’re not just talking about time exercising, but day to day living, which actually counts a lot more towards how much you move around each day. An office worker who goes for a run after work might still burn fewer calories than a shop worker stacking shelves all day but doesn’t go running. So the first thing you need to do is calculate your daily energy expenditure here. To lose weight you must eat fewer calories than your daily expenditure each day.
Once you’ve decided how many calories you’re going to eat each day you need to divide these into carbohydrates, proteins and fats. But what’s the right split? (Watch this video; What are Macronutrients, for help)
If you struggle with blood sugar swings a lower carb, higher fat diet can help with this. 35% carbs, 25% protein and 40% fat is about right.
40% carb, 30% protein, 30% fat is a good balance for maintenance.
While dieting it’s very important to keep protein high to avoid muscle loss, so 25% carb, 50% protein and 25% fat can help. Going too low in any macronutrient even while dieting isn’t advisable as you need certain nutrients for healthy digestion (fibre in carbs), hormones (which fat is used to make), and a broad range of vitamins for health.
Some people are happy guessing what a good balance is for them but if you want to track your intake then MyFitnessPal is a brilliant app. Use this calculator to work out how many grams of each food group you need, then the app will work out how much you’ve eaten (or are planning to eat) when you input the food. It has a huge database of generic and branded foods.
Your local gym might not be open but that doesn’t mean you can’t get in a good workout. There is an abundance of follow-along workouts online which need no equipment.
In fact I have a totally free 7 day plan that includes 7 bodyweight HIIT workout as well as a calorie controlled meal plan, Find out more here.
Once you’ve found an exercise or workout system you like (try YouTube for ideas too) make a schedule and stick to it. 30 minutes 5 times a week is the minimum you should be doing. If you’re a morning person then waking yourself up with a workout before you get on with your day might be best for you and it also means that whatever else happens in the day you’ve already ticked the exercise box. For others, breaking up the day with a lunchtime sweat might be better. Evenings are fine if they work for you, but some people find exercise stimulating and stops them falling asleep as easily. Personally I don’t workout later than lunchtime for this reason, but you do what works for you.
A step counter on your wrist can be very helpful while at home too. Most of our daily calorie expenditure comes from the walking, lifting and pottering around that goes with daily life. The walk to work from the car park, up stairs in shopping centres etc. A tracker can encourage you to get up and move at home as you can see how many (or little!) steps you’ve done throughout the day. Pacing around while making phone calls, exercise ‘snacks’ of squats and press ups in between zoom meetings or while the kettle is boiling, and of course going out each day for a 30 minute walk or cycle ride which can double up as leisure time with the rest of your household.
Finally don’t underestimate the power of relaxation and sleep. People who don’t sleep enough have more of the hunger hormone ghrelin so are more likely to overeat. Lowering stress levels means you’re less likely to turn to alcohol or food for comfort too. Exercise is good for lowering stress, but in fact simple walking (ideally in nature) is the best. Meditation has a whole host of proven benefits too. If you find quieting your mind difficult try a guided mediation such as the Headspace app.
And finally if this year has been a bit of a blip for you, health wise, then at least with vaccines being rolled out we can finally start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Life will be back to normal soon at last!