Have you heard jokes about the “Quarantine 15” yet? As a pediatric endocrinologist, I work with families to overcome metabolic conditions and can tell you it is a real concern.
We have seen entire families gain 5-15 pounds each over the past few months and the most obvious culprit has been access to food for easy snacking. And why is this happening? Most likely, this is because of the stress hormones we’re all over-secreting and their negative effect on our metabolism.
Short term, this is easily overcome, but for some of our families this is a tremendous concern. Abnormal weight gain has placed them at a higher risk of pre-diabetes and diabetes. In some cases, it has caused concern for abnormal cholesterol levels and a condition called fatty liver disease, where excess nutrition gets stored in the liver and can cause it to under-function over time. While it is absolutely necessary that we follow public health advice to slow the spread of COVID-19, we want to caution as well that we all need to prioritize our health as we stay safe.
Newer data has shown that many of us are experiencing worsening health because of our quarantine habits. If your health is declining and you contract COVID-19, your recovery could be more difficult.
At Novant Pediatric Endocrinology, we have been working hard to help our families avoid the unwanted effects of our new COVID-19 lifestyles. We have compiled here a few tips to share with you for how to ensure that your family remains healthy and emerges from quarantine in even better shape than when you all entered it.
Control your snacking
It is important to remember that while small snacks can help us avoid overeating at meals, large snacks or those high in sugar and processed carbohydrates can cause rapid weight gain and fuel increased hunger by the body’s response to a spike in blood sugar. Reach for fresh fruits and vegetables for snacks first! In my house, we keep an easy-to-grab fruit bowl handy on the counter and a pre-cut fruit and vegetable plate ready in the fridge.
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Juice is not the answer
We all know at this point that sugary sodas are bad. So is juice. In fact, when it comes to sugar, juice is no better than soda. I tell families to eat fruit and drink water to make juice in their tummy. If you have a choice between anything and water, always choose water. If you cannot live without a little flavor, try using a Mason jar to make water with cucumber slices and mint, or peaches and lemon slices. You can fill up a fresh pitcher every night with these delicious add-ins and enjoy some flavorful water.
Sports drinks and sweet tea are just as sugary as regular soda. Remember that our goal is to consume less than 20-25 grams of sugar a day, and if you are younger than 8, consume less than 15 grams.
Create your own gym class
By nature, virtual school means lots more sitting because class is at home — but it doesn’t mean we can’t build in ways to be active. I am suggesting that all of my families schedule their own gym class. You don’t need to go crazy with equipment. Also, I hear from parents that they are too busy all day to go outside. Do what you can. These modest increments of activity all add up.
You can schedule 15-minute brain breaks with a jump rope, (careful) stair sprints, and dance parties. One of the benefits of the gyms closing is that they put many of their classes online! There are fantastic high intensity interval training workouts readily available on your phone or laptop. If you do two of these a day, you’ll be in great shape. Enjoy the beautiful North Carolina climate and make it a priority to go for a family walk after dinner or following lunch. Get the whole family involved to keep each other accountable. Also, there is good data that regular exercise helps our mental health through anxiety- and depression-busting endorphins.
Lastly, with respect to mental health, give yourself and your child some grace and take a deep breath. These are stressful times. Your child may not verbalize feeling stressed but it is likely he or she is feeling some.
We all adapted overnight to this new COVID-19 world. The natural consequence of all this is that our stress hormones are through the roof. The worst part of these hormones — cortisol, adrenaline, growth hormone — is that they make us resistant to the hormone that keeps our sugar level (insulin) normal. And high insulin causes increased weight gain.
The good news is that we can focus on managing our stress by prioritizing the things above. Help your family find time to relax and enjoy a Zoom call with those you love. It will lower your stress hormones and help keep you all more fit and healthy. Do not be afraid to reach out to your doctor if you or your child need help managing stress. We will get through this together; I am certain of it!