You may have heard phrases like “Getting Quarantine 15” or “COVID-19” referring to the weight gain some people experienced after lockdown, when gyms closed and some people were afraid to leave their home, even for a walk during a very uncertain time. For those looking to lose weight, it can be difficult to do while we are still dealing with a pandemic.
Samantha came to my office in the winter of 2019, before the pandemic, after being told by Dr. Matthew Cohen, a gastroenterology and hepatology specialist for Jefferson Health, had been referred. She was recently diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, which included fatty liver, high cholesterol, and prediabetes. She weighed 250 pounds.
Samantha said worriedly, “I’m 26 years old, please help me lose weight. I am too young for these conditions.
Once the lock was on, Samantha knew her goals would be much harder to achieve as she was not alone in this fight. Over 40% of Americans said they have gained unwanted weight since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America report. Among those who reported unwanted weight gain, the average gain was 29 pounds. About 50% of those who reported unwanted weight gain reported having gained more than 15 pounds and 10% reported having gained more than 50 pounds. This is six times more weight than the average vacation weight gain.
Samantha exceeded those chances by losing 70 pounds during the pandemic by exercising and following a balanced nutrition plan provided by a registered dietitian.
I recently met Samantha on her journey to weight loss and how she maintains her healthy lifestyle.
Emily Rubin: When did your weight become a problem?
Samantha: I didn’t think my weight was an issue until I had some really problematic stomach issues. It felt like everything I ate was against me, so I saw a GI doctor who really looked at it from the perspective of my weight problem – that was in December 2019.
IS: How was your diet back then?
S.: I ate a lactose-free diet because of my lactose intolerance and then started a gluten-free diet because of my GI symptoms in hopes of weight loss. I’ve also tried a lot of “fashion diets” but nothing really worked for me. I definitely didn’t eat well; I had no real idea of a balanced diet – just what foods to avoid so I wouldn’t have a terrible stomach ache.
IS: What have been your diet and exercise attempts so far?
S.: I tried a gluten-free diet and it was completely unsuccessful – I tasted horrible on most gluten-free foods or I couldn’t eat because of a peanut allergy. I tried the keto diet but never got to the fat level because the idea of adding butter to my coffee seemed gross to me. I always thought I was active as a therapist for children with autism. I spent most of my time walking around with them so why bother to exercise? I would also try to work overtime a few days a week so that I don’t have much time for other activities. I did a little Zumba with friends, but life got in the way so I quit after about two months.
IS: What was your lightbulb moment that made you lose weight?
S.: I was sitting in the doctor’s office on my gastrointestinal tract and they told me about fatty liver disease and my grandfather’s genetic disease (alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency) that put me at a higher risk of developing advanced liver disease. A few months later, my dad had gastric bypass surgery and told me how much happier he was and how much better he was feeling. Taken together, these two events made me really change the way I took care of myself because I know you only get one body.
IS: How much did you lose and how long did it take?
S.: I’ve lost about 70 pounds in the last year when there was little gym access and limited grocery stores. I had to shop online to find some of my healthier meals and exercise outside when the gyms were closed.
IS: Has your weight plateau at any point?
S.: I don’t have the feeling that my weight has really stabilized at any point, but rather fluctuates due to various factors. When COVID first appeared, I was very aggressive with exercising due to the boredom of working from home, but I didn’t lose as much as before because I had limited access to proper fitness equipment. As soon as I got access to better equipment and started doing more strength exercises, my weight loss picked up. Even though my number on the scale may not have changed in the last few months, I am still losing clothing sizes and inches around my body that I could never have imagined.
Courtesy / Samantha
IS: Do you want to lose more weight or have you achieved your goal?
S.: I got into this consideration, if I can lose 20 pounds it would be cool. Instead, I’ve set myself a whole goal of creating a healthy lifestyle for myself. It’s a lifelong goal that I want to keep pursuing.
IS: What are your diet and exercise now?
S.: My diet has changed a lot. I still focus on a balanced diet and use protein and vegetables to fill myself up instead of carbohydrates and sugar. I pay much more attention to labels and ingredients and what happens in my body. I train about four to five times a week, so I had to adjust to a full personal work schedule. I use yoga, weight lifting, cardio, and weight training a lot.
IS: How did working with a nutritionist help you achieve your goal?
S.: Working with you has helped me develop a new appreciation for food by sharing alternatives for my food allergies, snack suggestions that keep me full and satisfied, and new recipes that inspire my cuisine. Some of my favorite dishes were Greek chicken bowls, protein pancakes, anything I can make with spaghetti squash, pumpkin soup and shrimp pad thai with almond sauce and cauliflower rice.
IS: Do you feel like you are depriving yourself?
S.: Never! I used to feel guilty about eating certain foods and feeling bad for spoiling myself, but that has changed. I enjoy the snacks and desserts that I now eat when I have cravings. My stomach doesn’t hurt and I don’t feel incredibly bloated when I eat better foods. My all-time favorite candy right now is your high-protein Devil’s Food cake recipe.
IS: How has COVID-19 affected your weight loss success?
S.: I have a feeling that it made my weight loss even more successful! I took the time at home to work on deficits, build up my strength and learn new techniques. I fell in love with training, used it as my outlet for everything. I knew I couldn’t leave the house due to COVID, but at least I could walk outside, carry my weights outside, and exercise. It was the healthiest vacation I could get. Then my love for cycling began, my ability to walk improved, and I took even longer walks to explore parts of my neighborhood that I hadn’t done in years. COVID-19 made my weight loss so successful because I was able to focus on myself in a way I haven’t done in years.
IS: What motivates you to continue this journey?
S.: One of the biggest motivations that motivates me is the results I see and how I feel. I have a huge amount of newfound energy. I adjust in clothes I could never dream of wearing before. I love watching me get stronger, watching the muscles develop in my arms and back that I didn’t even know I had. It really feels amazing.
IS: Is there anything that you have difficulty with staying on the right track?
S.: I’m not always the best at tracking my food, especially when I’m back to work full time. Sometimes at the end of the day I’m just too tired!
IS: How has your weight loss affected your relationships?
S.: I think my weight loss has changed my relationships for the better. I made a great friend at the first gym I worked out at and we support each other in training and hold each other accountable. I also got some friends who told me that my weightlessness inspired them to pursue their own fitness and healthy lifestyles.
IS: Who are your biggest supporters?
S.: I think my biggest supporters are my boyfriend and now fiancé Scott, my best friend Alicia, my friend Britt and my friend Miranda. No matter what, they really helped me all this trip. Whether I’m stuck eating or just looking for someone to talk to about workouts, they are there.
IS: What are your greatest successes in losing weight or exercising – something that you have never been able to achieve before?
S.: One of my greatest achievements is that I can do pull-ups! I’ve never had upper body strength like this. I’m also very proud of my deadlift and squat skills, I never knew how strong I can be. I think another achievement for me is simply the healthy relationship I have developed with food. There is no longer any guilt for eating something “unhealthy”.
IS: What is your long-term goal?
S.: My long-term goal is to keep this lifestyle. Instead of something I have to do, it’s something I want to do. Movement is a coping skill and cooking is my favorite way of expressing myself.
Recipe: Delicious Devil’s Food Cake in a bowl
A completely healthy, protein-rich and low-sugar alternative to Devil’s Food Cake.
• 1 scoop of chocolate protein powder
• 1 tbsp wholemeal pancake mix – (optionally gluten-free)
•2 tbsp granulated sweetener of your choice
•3 teaspoons of baking powder
•1-2 tbsp cocoa powder, adjust to the desired chocolate content
•1 large egg
•1/4 cup milk of your choice – skimmed milk or almond milk
•In a mixing bowl, mix together protein powder, pancake mixture, baking powder, sweetener granules and cocoa powder and mix well.
•In a separate bowl, whisk the egg with the milk and pour into the dry mixture and mix until completely incorporated.
•Place in the microwave for 60 seconds, remove from the microwave and enjoy immediately.
Thanks to my twin boys for helping create a delicious treat! !
Emily Rubin, RD, LDN, is a registered nutritionist for the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Thomas Jefferson University.