“COVID-10”: Epidemic Weight Gain in Hunters
Story by Larry Bartlett
Photos by Melissa Norris
It’s been less than a year since COVID-19 arrived in the United States. In a staggeringly short window of time our personal eating habits and workout routines have slipped far below our pre-COVID standards and have contributed to what has been “memed” the “COVID-10” pounds of weight gain many Americans now harness. This fall I surveyed epidemic-related weight gain in my hunter clientele and learned these hunters had gained between 7- and 11 pounds from April to August (five months). In otherwise healthy adults, gaining two pounds a month is not okay. If we don’t change this trend for ourselves, how much greater weight gain and loss of health and fitness can we expect over the next year with our newly adopted habits? How big a deal is a 10-pound weight gain? These are rhetorical questions, of course, because the truth is obvious. Your new habits have replaced your old ones or made your old habits lazier if you’ve gained ten pounds since March 2020; and ten pounds of weight gain represents a fat surplus of over 35,000 kcals, which is equal to over 17 days of full rations. If this shoe fits, you simply need to adopt new habits and this information is your guide to a healthier state of being.
Phillippa Lally is a health-psychology researcher at University College London. Her study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, examined how long it takes for habits to form. They studied 96 people over a 12-week period. Each person chose one new habit for the 12 weeks and reported each day on whether or not they did the behavior and how automatic the behavior felt. Some people chose simple habits like “drinking a bottle of water with lunch.” Others chose more difficult tasks like “running for 15 minutes before dinner.” At the end of the 12 weeks, the researchers analyzed the data to determine how long it took each person to go from starting a new behavior to automatically doing it. On average, it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic—66 days to be exact. The U.S. Department of Defense also uses an 8-week program for “reprogramming” civilians to become soldiers, called Basic Training.
What this data suggests is twofold: 1) It took us about two months of pandemic lockdown and social isolation to abandon our healthy eating habits and workout routines and then another few months to practice becoming fat; 2) Adopting new, healthier habits will take us an average of 66 days of practice before those actions become automatic responses that affect the new and healthier you. We are what we eat, and we become what we practice. For the record, I am currently one pound heavier than I weighed two years ago and the exact same weight as the day of my hip replacement surgery nine months ago…the week COVID-19 arrived in Seattle. Forget that I am not a doctor or sports nutritionist, but do not forget that I am healthy and fit despite this pandemic and major surgery. The nutrition guidelines that I live by are simple and cohesive with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and proof of theory can be yours with a simple 66-day challenge.
First, consider the 5 Overarching Guidelines that keep our dietary compass pointed in the healthiest heading. These are personal commitments to a greater and healthier you. Visualize yourself in 50 years and decide how fit and healthy you look and feel. Commit to following great advice from healthy mentors. Follow these personal commitments each and every day of every decade toward that mental picture of yourself. My vision, don’t laugh, includes an expiration date of 2065. Imagine that. I’ll be 94 years old and still bustin’ your chops!
5 Overarching Guidelines
- Follow a healthy eating pattern across your life span.
- Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount.
- Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake.
- Shift to healthier food and beverage choices.
- Support healthy eating patterns for all.
A healthy daily personal pattern (persona) must be adopted first because your persona drives eating patterns. If you don’t know what a healthy persona is, just fake it ‘til you make it by demonstrating these simple actions:
Buy a digital bathroom scale and document your weight every morning to keep yourself knowing your personal weight. This is your accountability measure. Do not allow yourself to continue to gain weight. The new you is thinner and that scale is your best tool to keep you on track. Daily fluctuations in weight are expected due to hydration levels and poop cycles, but your daily weights are markers for your weekly body weight. If your goal is weight loss, weekly readings should move down by 1-2 pounds every seven days. If weight is gained, daily measures allow you to be proactive with dietary modifications.
Only consume what your body will burn in 24 hours. For me, who’s moderately active, that’s 2800 calories. When I want to shed a pound, I restrict my caloric intake by 500 calories per day and within seven days I’ve reached my goal. Conversely, if I were to add 500 calories per day to my diet for a week, I would gain one pound unless I also increased caloric demand through intense exercise.
Stop eating food and consuming sugary drinks by 8 p.m. every day. Allow two or more hours after a meal before going to bed. It is healthiest to allow our bodies 10- to 12 hours of fasting at night to regulate digestive processes, hormone balance and rest cycles for broad and smooth-muscle recovery.
Make healthy meals and cook extra protein and whole grains for leftover lunches. Protein-rich foods and complex carbohydrates in whole grains stick with you longer and provide sustaining energy.
Snacks are important every 3-4 hours between meals. These snacks should provide energy and curb hunger pangs, and they must be chosen carefully. Nuts and fruit have all the calories, fat and protein your body needs. Know what your handful of nuts counts out for calories, fat and protein. Learn what fruit calories you’re eating each day. Stay within your daily calorie allowance.
Do pushups and sit-ups every day because core strength is the key to many healthy aspects of daily life. I do 50 pushups and 200 sit-ups every day and have since 1996. Those simple five minutes are now as routine as brushing my teeth.
Make exercise important enough to actually do it at least four times every week for 30-60 minutes. Any cardio activity that increases your heart rate and oxygen flow adds to your collective fitness and health.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! The best rule of thumb for knowing how much water to drink each day is by dividing your body weight by two and that’s how many ounces one should drink every day. I weigh 191 pounds (191/2 = 95.5 ounces of water). That’s 12 cups of water per day, four cups shy of a gallon. I admit this is a challenge unless I’m working hard and sweating but remember that many of our food choices also have water that adds to our hydration. Adequate hydration is achieved if we are urinating every two hours throughout the day and the color of urine is a straw yellow. If it’s darker or strong smelling, drink more water.
Take vitamin D and a multivitamin every day. Along with eating whole fruits with vitamin C, the vitamins collectively improve the immune system and reduce the risk of illnesses like the flu and COVID-19.
Consume enough protein for muscle maintenance and retention. The rule of thumb I follow is 1 gm/kg of body weight. I weigh 191 pounds or 87 kg, so my target for high-quality plant and animal protein per day is 90 gm.
13 Key Recommendations
Consume a healthy eating pattern that accounts for all foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level. Adults who are mildly active and wish to maintain or slowly lose weight should target 2,000 calories per day. The average 1-hour workout burns less than 500 kcals, so don’t eat more than your body will burn each day.
A healthy daily eating pattern includes:
- A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark-green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), and remember vegetables are also sources of carbohydrates.
- Fruits, especially fresh whole fruits provide vitamins and fiber and also carbohydrates.
- Grains, at least half of which are whole grains. Brown rice, barley, whole oats, faro, spelt, millet, buckwheat and quinoa are winners.
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages.
- A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products. Variety is the key, since all types of wild fresh meat contain different protein and amino-acid profiles.
- Oils from avocado, olives and grape seed are good choices because they contain polyunsaturated fats instead of saturated and trans fats.
A healthy eating pattern limits:
Saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium, which pretty much means no more processed foods, take-out food, boxed meals, chips, cookies, ice cream, etc.
Key recommendations for healthy eating habits:
Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars. Stay away from sugar cereal, baked goods, candy, cookies, juices, Red Bull, Monster, and all foods and drinks with added sugars.
- Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats. No more take-out.
- Consume less than 2,300 milligrams per day of sodium. No more take-out.
- If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation and calories factored into daily restrictions. If you set yourself a 2,000-calorie daily allowance you can’t include a 3-drink minimum every day.
We should aim to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. The relationship between diet and physical activity contributes to caloric balance and managing body weight. As such, the Dietary Guidelines includes a key recommendation too: Meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
Larry Bartlett is the owner of Pristine Ventures based in Fairbanks, Alaska, and an avid, hardcore outdoorsman. Pristine Ventures offers a slew of resources for backcountry hunters and fishermen like selling top-quality packrafts and canoes that can hold loads needed for outdoor activities. Larry also helps plan hunts for DIY hunters and provides equipment rentals.