Shed the Post-COVID Pandemic Weight Gain

Pandemic Weight Gain

Be honest, did you gain a few pounds during the pandemic? Or perhaps more than a few pounds? You’re not the only one. In fact, one of several studies on weight gain during the pandemic shows that almost two-thirds of American adults reported that they were unhappy with their weight one year after the pandemic started. Adults are not the only ones affected by weight changes during the pandemic:  A large-scale study suggests that childhood obesity spiked during the pandemic, particularly in Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black, publicly insured, or lower-income children.

Even if you added a little padding during the past few years, you can shed the pandemic pounds. Here’s how your brain can help you do it.

WHAT’S BEHIND THE PANDEMIC WEIGHT GAIN?

We know that stress can negatively impact everything in our lives, including how and what we eat. Given the depth of stress people endured during the height of the COVID pandemic, and that most Americans sat around the house day after day, it’s been easy to reach for food to cope.

The brain plays a major role in this, as it is the body’s most energy-hungry organ. Even though it weighs a mere 3 pounds and comprises only about 2% of a person’s body weight, it requires 20% or more of daily caloric intake. Research shows that when we’re stressed, the brain requires more energy, causing us to crave carbohydrates. Eating an excess of processed, sugary foods is an easy pattern to get into, but it is a hard one to stop.

As meaningful as it is to not eat foods that are low in nutrients and high in sugar and certain fats, eating foods that nourish our minds and bodies is crucial to weight loss and supports optimal brain health. Click To Tweet

CONSEQUENCES OF PANDEMIC WEIGHT GAIN

Gaining weight isn’t just about our jeans not fitting or our shirt buttons popping off, and it’s not only problematic when it comes to more obvious health risks such as Type 2 diabetes or cardiac disease. Weight gain also adversely impacts our brains and mental health. Brain SPECT imaging, which measures blood flow and activity in the brain, shows that people who are overweight or obese have lower cerebral blood flow, which is associated with a number of debilitating issues, including:

An Amen Clinics brain imaging study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease

Brain imaging studies also show that low blood flow in the brain is the #1 imaging predictor that a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Research in the same journal found that people who eat a diet high in refined carbohydrates have a 400% increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

If all of that isn’t bad enough, eating a diet high in added sugars and saturated fats negatively impacts basic cognitive functions such as learning and memory, and it happens rapidly, according to findings in a 2017 study in PlosOne. In this study, just 4 days of consuming a high-sugar, high-fat breakfast led to significantly worse memory retention. Imagine how 2-plus years of this type of diet may be affecting your brain and memory.

In a study of brain SPECT imaging scans on 20,000 Amen Clinics patients analyzing the relationship between weight and the brain, it is clear that as weight goes up, the size and function of the brain goes down. Being overweight or obese is simply bad for our brains and can negatively impact our relationships, careers, and overall state of being.

5 BRAIN-BASED STRATEGIES TO SHED PANDEMIC POUNDS

If you gained weight during the pandemic, it’s time to shed those excess pounds. Here are some neuroscience-based tips to help you do it.

1. Eat right to think right.

As meaningful as it is to not eat foods that are low in nutrients and high in sugar and certain fats, eating foods that nourish our minds and bodies is crucial to weight loss and supports brain health. A meta-analysis suggests that eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish can help improve cognitive functioning—these are the same foods that aid in weight loss.

2. Swap your sweets.

A preference for sweet foods is a global phenomenon, even in cultures where healthier foods are consumed. Our palettes can become accustomed to certain tastes, and moving away from processed sweets to healthier foods can feel like a loss. If you’re hooked on using sugar or artificial sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda), try switching to stevia, a natural sugar substitute. A 2022 study found that sugar negatively impacts encoding memory (learning) and sucralose is detrimental to overall memory, learning, and executive functions such as judgment. Stevia, however, had no impact.

3. Get moving.

It’s widely known that exercise is imperative to maintaining long-term health and wellness, but keep in mind that you don’t have to work out like a maniac to stay fit. Walking is a highly effective method of losing weight when combined with an eating plan of nutrient-dense foods. Aim for 30 minutes a day and walk fast (like you’re late for an appointment). If getting off the couch to move sounds exhausting, keep in mind that it might not be easy at first, but our energy increases when we exercise. Finding a hobby that you love and keeps you active (such as table tennis or pickleball) not only helps with weight loss but also has the added benefit of boosting brain health and bringing more joy into your life. A win-win!

4. Get your zzz’s.

A lack of sleep causes the brain to release hormones that increase appetite and sugar cravings. Being well-rested by getting at least 7 hours of shut-eye each night can help curb sugar cravings.

5. Know your overeating brain type.

Understanding the underlying reasons why you tend to overeat is imperative to set yourself up for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Based on over 200,000 SPECT scans, Amen Clinics has identified 5 types of overeaters related to brain patterns. Which one sounds like you?

  • Compulsive Overeaters have increased activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG), which is associated with getting stuck on thoughts about food.
  • Impulsive Overeaters typically have too little activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is associated with having a hard time resisting food when it is around.
  • Impulsive-Compulsive Overeaters have a combination of low PFC activity and high ACG activity, and they have a tendency to fixate on eating and give in to impulses.
  • Sad or Emotional Overeaters have excessive activity in the limbic system and tend to use food as a coping mechanism for feelings of sadness.
  • Anxious Overeaters show increased activity in the basal ganglia, which is associated with using food as medicine to calm nervousness.

Weight gain as well as depression, anxiety, and any other related mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

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