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Avoid the “Quarantine 15”

Panda bears are known to eat between 26 and 84 pounds of food per day. That is why COVID-19 is called a “pandemic.”

OK, that’s not why it’s called a pandemic—that’s a joke going around social media. But the weight gain brought on in the wake of the coronavirus is no laughing matter. Since the onset of COVID-19 people are spending most of their time at home, seeking out “comfort food” recipes online, stocking up on shelf-stable processed foods, taking up bread baking to alleviate boredom, missing their gym workouts, stress eating, and drinking alcohol to ease anxiety. It’s no wonder that many are gaining the “Quarantine 15” and sporting new “COVID curves.”

According to surveys conducted by Nutri-System and Weight Watchers, the average American has gained between 6 and 12.5 pounds since COVID-19 locked down the country.

“The stress and the emotional toll of the pandemic has pushed a lot of people to eat more,” says Janine V. Kyrillos, MD, director of Jefferson’s Comprehensive Weight Management Program at Bala. Add to that more opportunity to munch because of being homebound, and gyms and exercise facilities being closed, and you have the perfect recipe for packing on the pounds.

But the effects of pandemic poundage are not just aesthetic. Along with weight gain comes health hazards including heart disease, diabetes, and joint pain, just to name a few. In addition, obesity is associated with serious complications in people who contract COVID-19.

But Kyrillos says there is hope for in the battle of the COVID-19 bulge—it’s just a matter of focus.

 “Everyone’s routine has changed, and their sense of control has changed,” she says. The key to regaining control and taking charge of your weight is to refocus.

“Take a look at where things have gotten out of hand,” she says. “Take a look at your home and work space. Can you get rid of foods that you have difficulty being around? Can you find other ways to deal with stress? Can you find ways to be active even though the gym is closed? Can you get a good night’s sleep?”

To answer “yes” to those questions, says Kyrillos, frame of mind is paramount. “If you're always looking at the worst and looking at how difficult this is, it’s going to be hard to shake it off. Try to look at it differently and understand that this is a tough time, but we’re going to get through it.”

And if you’ve already gained weight and feel anxious or depressed about it, it’s important to remember you’re not alone.

“This has been a difficult time for a lot of people,” she says. “Weight is a tough struggle, and the pandemic isn’t helping. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Think about ways to refocus and get back on track.”

Kyrillos says getting back on the healthy lifestyle bandwagon includes focusing on diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management.


  • Avoid snacking. Keep unhealthy the snacks out of the house—out of sight, out of mind! And if your routine includes sitting down to watch TV at night with a nosh, shuffle the routine. “Find something else to do—go for a walk, do an exercise tape, play a game, or get involved with a new hobby.”
  • Eat two or three healthy, wholesome, substantial meals a day and try to avoid snacking. Make sure each meal includes a protein (meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, nuts), non-starchy vegetables, and some natural fat for satiety. Stay away from sugars and starches.
  • Shop carefully (no little “surprises” in the basket when you get to checkout!) and plan balanced meals ahead of time. Do prep work so that cooking takes less time (especially when you’re hungry), or cook some meals ahead of time so that you can just pull from the fridge at mealtime.


  • Get moving! Take advantage of extra time at home to schedule regular exercise sessions. If you can’t go to your gym or exercise class, try an online workout class or video, walking, hiking, or biking. Get some weights or bands for strength training at home.


  • Work-from-home schedules are more flexible, leading to erratic sleep habits. It’s important to get back to a regular, consistent sleep schedule of seven to nine hours a night.
  • Avoid exercising right before bed; turn off all electronics; and create a quiet, relaxing atmosphere in the bedroom.
  • Avoid alcohol for several hours before sleep, as it can affect sleep quality.

Stress management

  • Manage your stress through meditation, yoga, or mindfulness practice. Instruction can be found online, as well as in books on the subjects.
  • Connecting with family, friends, or spiritual communities, either in-person (properly socially distanced, of course) or via phone/online options (FaceTime, Zoom, etc.) can provide support in difficult times.
  • Exercise. Being more active can improve your mood and sense of well being

Kyrillos also recommends looking at your scale as a partner—not an enemy.

“Weighing yourself regularly will help keep you mindful of your weight and guide you,” she says. But she cautions not to get caught up in numbers. The most important thing is feeling good and being healthy

If you are not feeling well; if you are having health issues; if weight gain continues; if blood pressure and blood sugar numbers increasing; then it might be time to seek professional medical help.

Jefferson Health’s Comprehensive Weight Management Center offers a full range of weight management approaches in order to align with each patient’s needs, including guidance in nutritional or physical activity, intensive behavioral counseling, medication therapy, and/or surgery.