The lockdown half-stone - and how to shift it

·7-min read

Watch: 40% of adults put on weight in lockdown. 

Almost half of adults put on weight over lockdown with around half a stone the average weight gain, a new survey has revealed. 

Research carried out for Public Health England (PHE), revealed 41% of adults in England claimed to have put on weight since the first lockdown in March last year.

The survey, of 5,000 people, found around half a stone (4.1kg) was gained on average by those who had put on weight, with 1 in 5 (21%) reporting a gain of a stone or more.

Unhealthy eating habits such as snacking and comfort eating were reported as being the main contributors to weight gain during the pandemic for nearly half (46%) of those who reported gaining weight.

“The pandemic has been hugely challenging for everyone and it has upended our daily routines," Public health minister Jo Churchill said. "In the months ahead, we want to make it easier for people to adopt a healthier lifestyle that works for them."

Almost half of adults put on half a stone in lockdown ‘comfort eating’, new research has revealed. (Getty Images)
Almost half of adults put on half a stone in lockdown ‘comfort eating’, new research has revealed. (Getty Images)

The news has prompted the launch of a new campaign, aimed to help people eat better and get fitter, with more research finding people who use and follow the NHS Weight Loss Plan app over 12 weeks reporting a loss on average of almost a stone (5.8kg).

“The brilliant Better Health campaign returns today and provides a wide range of tools – including an easy to use phone app – to support people, whether that’s losing weight, sharing healthier recipes or motivating people to be more active,” Jo Churchill adds. 

Commenting on the survey results and the campaign, Dr Alison Tedston, the chief nutritionist for PHE, said: “The past sixteen months have caused many to change their habits so it is not a surprise to see so many people reporting weight gain.

“We know how hard it can be to lose weight and keep it off, so we are providing a range of support options to help people maintain a healthy weight. It’s never too late to make changes to help improve your health.”

New research has revealed almost half of adults have put on weight during the pandemic. (Getty Images)
New research has revealed almost half of adults have put on weight during the pandemic. (Getty Images)

Why have so many people put on weight in lockdown?

Dr Jeff Foster, GP and author of Man Alive: The health problems men face and how to fix them says lockdown saw a polarisation of health habits with some people using the opportunity of the first lockdown to reflect on their diet and exercise and change the way they approach their wellness in positive way.  

"However, this was really the minority," he explains. "The majority of the UK who have experienced changes in bodyweight during the pandemic have done so in a more negative way."

There are a number of reasons why so many of us have piled on the pounds during the pandemic, according to Dr Foster. 

For a start there was a physical barrier to keeping in shape which included the closure of sports and recreational activities, which had a particular impact as gyms and other sports were hard to recreate at home. 

As Dr Foster points out for the majority of people, going for a walk is never as good as high intensity exercise

There was also the psychological impact of lockdown which he says was a major weight gain trigger. 

"We know that exercise contributes to only a small percentage of weight loss/weight gain, with the vast majority being what we eat," he explains. 

"During the last 18 months, the psychological stresses imposed on the population meant that many people turned to food as a source of comfort," he says. 

"Food is a natural way to provide comfort."

Boredom also had a role to play in the increasing of our waistbands - with little else to do, people tended to snack more. 

Similarly, many people also turned to alcohol during lockdown. 

"Lockdown provided the perfect environment to promote home excess alcohol consumption," Dr Foster explains. 

"This is because drinking during lockdown meant it was repeatable and habit forming, it reduced stress and anxiety, it felt like a way of doing something normal, and it was accessible. 

"Unlike many other social activities that were stopped during lockdown, having a drink remained easy to do. Remember one glass of wine is about 45-50 calories. So if you have three glasses a night that adds up to 1050 calories a week," he adds. 

Watch: Secrets behind Rebel Wilson's incredible weight loss revealed

So how can we shift the excess weight healthily?

Pick up the weights

Whilst you may be tempted to focus solely on cardio-based workouts when trying to shift stubborn fat, combining aerobic exercises with strength training has been shown to be particularly effective for losing body fat.

"Adding resistance to your workout with weight training can help the body preserve fat-free mass, which has been shown to increase the number of calories your body burns whilst resting," explains Steven Virtue, fitness development manager at Total Fitness.

"Consistent weight training, that is safe yet challenging for your body, will also help you to build lean muscle – this, combined with the fat loss, helps to create a more toned and sculpted physique."

Incorporate HIIT into your workout routine

High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT for short, is a fantastic form of exercise to incorporate into your fitness routine. 

"Not only is HIIT a great way to boost your mood, but research shows that the increased metabolic rate, caused by strenuous and high intensity exercise, can last up to 38 hours, meaning your body will burn significantly more calories in a resting state," explains Virtue. 

"HIIT, particularly the longer circuits or more complex combinations, can be intimidating to beginners. However, there are simple and short HIIT exercises that you can start with: squats, sit ups, burpees and mountain climbers are all fantastic exercises to try for 30 second intervals with a 20 second rest," he adds. 

Adjust your diet

Diet is fundamental to weight and fat loss. Recent research suggests that 80% of fat loss is dependent on a good diet, which shows why many people struggle to lose weight despite frequent exercise.

"If your goal is to lose weight, then you need to be in a calorie deficit – this is when you consume slightly fewer calories than you are burning which in turn makes your body tap into the stored body fat for extra energy," Virtue explains. 

To ensure you are still consuming the nutrients your body needs whilst in a calorie deficit, it’s a good idea to work with a nutritionist or personal trainer to create a healthy and balanced diet plan.

Public Health England have launched a campaign to encourage people to live a healthier lifestyle. (Getty Images)
Public Health England have launched a campaign to encourage people to live a healthier lifestyle. (Getty Images)

Increase activity outside of the gym

Whilst a sweaty gym session is great for burning calories, having a more active lifestyle outside of the gym will also promote fat loss whilst improving your overall health.

"Increase your daily activity levels with simple lifestyle changes: avoid driving short distances and try walking instead, use stairs instead of lifts, or take up hobbies that involve movement, such as climbing or swimming," suggests Virtue.

"If you are struggling to stay motivated to be more active in day-to-day life, then combine this with socialising and seeing loved ones. For example, you could suggest swapping your next afternoon in the pub for a trip to a beautiful nature spot where you can enjoy a long walk and picnic," he adds.

Allow time for rest

When trying to meet fitness goals, it can be tempting to try to push your body to its limits with a rigorous and relentless training schedule. However, this is not the most effective way to lose body fat or maintain a healthy exercise routine.

"Too much vigorous exercise without enough recovery days can lead to overtraining which actually causes your body to store more fat, due to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol," Virtue explains.

"Listen to how your body feels and what it needs - if you feel particularly lethargic or achy then vigorous exercise is probably not the best idea. Instead, consider an activity that will allow you to rest whilst also benefiting your mood, such as reading or meditation."

Sleep is also crucial to the fat burning process - Virtue recommends aiming for at least seven hours of quality sleep per night and ensuring that you have an optimum environment for falling into a deep state of sleep.

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