Are you packing on the Quarantine 15?

The shut down of daily life — aka Quarantine — is a recipe for diet disaster. There you are, locked in your home, bored, anxious, stressed, depressed, and angry. What do you do? You eat.

Actual hunger has nothing to do with it. And for plenty of people, all this mindless eating leads to even more stress, depression, anxiety and anger. Not only is your life out of control, now your weight is spiraling out of control as well.

Are you doomed to gain the Quarantine 15 (or more!) as politicians keep prolonging the lock down? Let’s do the math.

I know, everyone disputes the simplistic idea that one pound of fat has 3500 calories. If you’re talking about pure fat, such as tablespoons of oil, it’s true. Fat tissue on the other hand is different from pure fat. Tissue includes other substances, such as water. So the scale might go up by 1 pound even though you haven’t actually overeaten 3500 calories.

But 3500 calories per pound is close enough. Which means you’d have to overeat about 52,500 calories during the lock down to gain 15 pounds of fat. What does that mean in terms of excess calories you’d have to eat every single day during the lock down?

Weeks of quarantinecalories to overeat per dayfood equivalent per day
4 weeks18753/4 lb (12 oz) potato chips or
2 pints Haagen Daas ice cream
6 weeks125024 Oreo cookies or
5 Klondike bars
8 weeks (2 months)9405-1/2 strawberry Pop Tarts
or 3 cups generic chocolate chip ice cream
12 weeks (3 months)6252 large glazed donuts + 1 donut hole or 2-1/2 cups chocolate pudding

Key phrase “Every Single Day”. It might not seem like a big deal to binge on 24 Oreos one day, but every day? Day after day? You’d lose interest in those pretty quickly.

As you can see from the table, the longer the lock down goes on, the easier it would be to gain 15 lbs, because the excess amounts of food are smaller. Not hard to imagine snacking on a couple of donuts or Pop Tarts or maybe an extra cup of premium ice cream or a big bowl of potato chips every day for 3 months. Throw in lack of exercise (mandated by politicians in some locations) and you’re got a problem.

What Can Be Done?

There are no guaranteed ways to shut down mindless eating other than sheer will power. At some point, if you’re sufficiently motivated, will power turns into habit. You don’t graze through a pint of Haagen Daas or a bag of potato chips. One strategy is to schedule a small snack at the time you’re most likely to over-indulge. If your schedule says snack at 4 o’clock, then you shouldn’t be peering into the kitchen cabinets at 5 o’clock or 3 o’clock.

What to eat? Foods that don’t stimulate your appetite or taste buds, which means sweets and high carb foods: snack foods like chips or crackers, frozen desserts, cake, cookies, pastries and candy. If you’ve trained yourself to go for those sorts of things when you’re eating out of boredom, you need to shut down your taste buds. Here’s what I recommend:

  1. raw vegetables with a splash of vinegar: cucumber slices, fresh greens, sliced radishes or carrots, peppers, cauliflower, jicama, fresh tomatoes
  2. High protein foods: boiled egg, tuna, smoked salmon, sardines, cheese, cottage cheese, plain yogurt (yes plain), sliced chicken or turkey, nuts, hummus, a spoonful of nut butter.

Depending on what works best, you could stick to one or the other type of snack, or have a little of each. The goal is to shut down the habit of eating high carb or sweet foods by substituting foods that are neither.

For the high protein foods, you don’t need a lot: 1 egg, 1 oz (or so) piece of cheese, 1/3 cup cottage cheese or plain yogurt, 2-3 TB of hummus, 2 oz chicken, turkey, tuna, salmon. Lately I’ve chopped up a boiled egg with 1 tsp mayonnaise (yes just 1 tsp) and a dash of salt. Stir in a pinch of tarragon or a dab of mustard for a different flavor.

What about nuts? Those are satisfying and high protein too. They’re also high calorie and easy to overeat. With nuts, you need to be careful about the amount if you’re worried about the Quarantine 15. Portion out 1/4 cup; eat slowly, don’t just gulp big handfuls.

What else can you do?

If you local politicians and bureaucrats haven’t banned exercise, you can go for a walk, or a jog. Maybe even a bike ride, although impossible to breath adequately through a mask. Some people like online exercise classes, but the whole point of a class is the class part. It’s motivating to be with a group, with a real instructor, in a facility with the right flooring and height, perhaps with friends who make the experience more fun. Not so much fun in your family room on a carpet squinting at a computer screen.

Someday when the lockdown is ended, you can get real exercise. Meanwhile making a habit of better food choices and a snack schedule is a good idea all the time, not just during quarantine.

Copyright: All content © 2020 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.