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Have you avoided the ‘Pandemic 15’?

Staff Writer
LA Junta Tribune
Make fruit a part of your diet.

By Julie Garden-Robinson NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist

I could almost hear the basket of “welcome back to campus” treats beckoning me by name. It was on the reception desk near my office.

I could not ignore the temptation. I nabbed a small pack of cookies.

The basket had a variety of snack crackers, popcorn and bottled water, along with “treats” such as cookies and candy bars.

I already have water and popcorn in my office.

A couple of hours later, the basket beckoned me again.

“Julie, you really need a candy bar.”

I somehow resisted the call of the treat basket. Narrowly.

My colleagues were made aware of the basket during a Zoom meeting. They also know that I am in the office suite, usually alone. If all the treats are gone, they know who ate them.

I have been in my campus office almost every work day since March. When classes ended abruptly, we all had the option to work at home or work in our offices. I chose “isolation” in my office because my house distracts me with dozens of tasks that need my attention.

I have gotten up at the usual time every day for six months, put on my typical work clothes and tried not to snack all day in my campus office.

Then the basket arrived.

The department administrative assistant moved the basket to the breakroom down the hall, away from both of us. Just for fun, I have been monitoring the status of the treats as faculty have returned to teach classes. All the cookies and candy bars are gone.

You may have heard of the “quarantine 15” or the “pandemic 15” on TV news shows or in magazines, similar to the “freshman 15.” College freshmen tend to gain weight. In fact, researchers have found that 25% of college freshmen gain at least 5% of their body weight during their first semester. Although 15 pounds often is cited, their actual weight gain is closer to 7 1/2 to 10 pounds.

I am sure some researchers are in the midst of an epic pandemic weight gain study.

We’ve been stressed for a variety of reasons these past months. As our world has changed, many people have changed their eating and physical activity habits. Many of us spend our days on Zoom video calls or working at computers for hours.

Gyms were closed for months, and some people stayed inside and bingewatched movies. Others are baking and cooking to the point that ingredient shortages occurred at grocery stores. Yeast was like gold in some areas.

I never have seen so many photos of baked goods show up on my Facebook feed.

We promote healthful home food preparation in the field of nutrition, so cooking and baking at home is fun. However, too many cookies and calories in general can result in weight gain.

I think we all know that.

Some people have changed their wardrobe to sweat pants and T-shirts. Be careful with stretchy fabrics if weight management is your goal.

You might want to wear jeans or pants with waistbands in your current size.

Do you know your body mass index (BMI)? The BMI weight tool takes into account height and weight. You can calculate yours with this formula: Weight (in pounds) divided by height (inches) divided (again) by height in inches. Then multiply that number by 703.

A BMI below 18.5 is considered “underweight.” A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered “normal” weight, from 25 to 29.9 is considered “overweight, and 30 and above is “obese.”

See https://tinyurl.com/NDSUBMI or an online calculator from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Excess weight has many health effects. It increases our risk for diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, joint issues and many other health concerns. Now health experts are warning us that obesity is a risk factor in the severity of COVID-19 symptoms.

Losing weight may be a challenge during a pandemic, so maintaining our current weight might be our best option.

We all can learn lessons from the people who have been tracked on the National Weight Control Registry. The list includes more than 10,000 people who have achieved and maintained significant weight loss.

Their weight loss has ranged from 30 pounds to 300 pounds. About 98% of those in the registry have modified their food intake and 94% have increased their physical activity. The favorite activity has been walking. Most (78%) eat breakfast daily and 75% weigh themselves at least once a week. Nearly two out of three limit their TV viewing to 10 hours per week.

Instead of a recipe this week, here are five snack options moderate in calories (about 100 calories each), which might fill some nutrition gaps. However, choose one for a snack, not all five:

• Half an apple (about 3/4 cup

slices) with 2 teaspoons of peanut

butter or sunflower seed butter.

• 14 almonds or 20 pistachios.

• 3 whole-grain crackers with one

slice of low-fat cheese divided

among the crackers.

• 1 cup of raw carrots with 3 tablespoons of nonfat dressing (or 2

tablespoons hummus).

• 2 1/2 cups of diced watermelon.

For more information, see the meal planning and snack ideas available at https://bit.ly/3lr51k0. Try to choose healthful snacks that crowd out the less-healthful foods.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.