The science behind the pandemic-induced weight gain

By: Fatima Alvarez 

Quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic has left people with a plethora of side-effects. In addition to mental and emotional stresses like fear and boredom, a physical effect from self-isolation has sprung up: The Quarantine 15.

Similar to the term “Freshman 15,” which is used to describe the weight gain that usually occurs during a student’s first year of post-secondary studies, “Quarantine 15,” suggests people are putting on pounds while staying indoors and isolating.

Red River student-athlete Tai Truong is familiar with both.

“School, losing jobs, and life in general have all contributed to stress for me and the people around me,” Truong said.

Psychotherapist Bryan E. Robinson from the University of North Carolina says studies show when humans are stressed out their hormones such as cortisol are released into the bloodstream. Large amounts of cortisol lead to craving foods high in fat, sugar and salt.

Studies also demonstrate when a person is stressed, glucose, a natural body sugar, is released from the liver and muscles.

After a stressor has passed, the glucose must be replenished. The more glucose released, the bigger the appetite. 

As a result, weeks of stress eating during a lockdown can create the “Quarantine 15.”

Local kinesiologist and personal trainer Shaquelle Hibbert claims more clients have been seeking her help since the pandemic hit.

“Gaining weight is more obvious when you’re at home all the time. For most clients, emotional eating has been the culprit of their weight gain,” said Hibbert. 

During the pandemic, Hibbert launched her own health company named KINactivity. She is currently teaching classes and boot camps via Zoom.

While initially a challenge to find participants, Hibbert says attendance at her Zoom classes has steadily increased.

“When quarantine first started, clients didn’t want to train online but since they’ve gained ‘Quarantine 15’, more wanted to join,” said Hibbert.

Meanwhile, gyms have reopened and have implemented new rules. 

Truong is a gym member at Planet Fitness, where masks are required.

“I do mind wearing a mask, but I am aware of the risk. I don’t want to compromise my health and of the people around me,” Truong said.

“The only other thing they’ve [Planet Fitness] been doing differently is increasing the sanitization, which they should’ve been doing before the pandemic.”

As for dealing with the diet aspect, Hibbert says one should still be mindful of their eating habits during this time.

“Acknowledge why you’re eating too much and focus on one habit at a time to correct,” Hibbert said. “Don’t feel guilty, nothing like this pandemic has happened before, just focus on starting new habits.”