If you’ve put on weight over the past couple of years, you’re not alone. Recent research shows around 38% of us have stacked the kilos on since March of 2020. Here’s why the pandemic, diet and lifestyle choices all factor in to this phenomenon.
Weight gain has been on an upwards trajectory for decades, but recently we've seen a spike in this trend – and the pandemic raging around the globe for the past couple of years may play a role, along with the growing consumption of the usual suspects like sugar and highly-processed foods. 67% of Aussies are overweight or obese, an alarming increase of nearly 4% since 2015, and it's predicted around 18 million of us will be overweight or obese by 2030. Here’s why we’re seeing this spike in weight gain and obesity.
With our high-sugar, heavily-processed diets, Aussies are racking up over 15 teaspoons of added sugar per day – more than double the 6-teaspoon recommendation for women. Let’s dive into what this is doing to our health and how it’s contributing to masses of Aussies stacking on the kilos – and what you can do about it.
Pandemic Weight Gain
You’ve probably heard of Freshman 15 – the term that refers to the 15 pounds American college students put on when staying away from home for the first time, but have you heard of Quarantine 15? The lockdowns and restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic have left a lot of us feeling a lot heavier – though the gains are closer to 29 pounds, or around 13 kilos. A poll by WebMD found that almost 50% of women and 25% of men had gained weight due to the pandemic. Here’s why:
Increased snacking: With many workers shifting to remote work, people found themselves mindlessly snacking throughout the day, due to their proximity to the kitchen. But for many, excess eating behaviours were actually driven by stress, anxiety and boredom.
Less exercise: Incidental exercise also took a hit, as we were less likely to be walking around the supermarket aisles or out for social activities during lockdowns, with many opting for home-delivered goods and zoom-call socials. Many people were also dealing with restricted access to gyms and exercise facilities, and without their usual routines, they ended up ditching exercise altogether.
Increased stress levels: Worries around health, restrictions and family tensions have caused a spike in stress and anxiety levels, which in turn throw our hormone levels out of whack. Cortisol is one such hormone that contributes to weight gain, and this is because it stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism. This then increases our appetite and cravings, which – you guessed it – cause weight gain.
We’re not eating enough fibre
Along with the impact of COVID-19 on our waistlines, our scarily-low dietary-fibre intake is one of the major contributors to the growing rates of weight gain – and obesity. Fibre plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy body, including providing the following functions:
- Regulating bowel movements
- Maintaining digestive health
- Maintaining satiety
- Balancing blood sugar levels
- Lowering bad cholesterol levels
But with so many heavily-processed foods stripping the fibre out of their ingredients, it figures that only 5% of us are getting enough fibre. But this stuff is essential for managing our blood sugar levels and preventing the weight gain that comes with fructose intake. Take fruit for example – without the fibre that comes with whole fruit, we stand the risk of gaining visceral fat. Fruit juice is one example of a low-fibre, processed version of fruit and it’s one of the big offenders when it comes to fructose content. While many juices are packed with added sugars, the natural sugars alone are enough to cause weight gain. Here’s why. They lack the essential nutrient which is abundant in whole fruits – fibre. It plays a role in slowing the absorption of the fructose, putting less pressure on our liver to metabolise it. That’s why consuming fruit without the fibre is a major contributor to weight gain and obesity, as we know that studies have found a direct link between fructose and the development of this condition. Considering another study shows we’re downing over 4 times the daily sugar limit, the fact that obesity rates have tripled since 1975 is of little surprise. To make matters worse, excess fructose intake also causes cause insulin resistance, so not only are we upping our risk for obesity, we’re upping our risk for the development of type 2 diabetes, which affects 8.5% of adults and is the cause of millions of deaths every year.
We’re eating excess added sugars and processed foods
Added sugars in some of our favourite household staples hold the blame for a vast portion of this weight-gain trend, along with driving the obesity crisis – these sneaky, addictive additives make us feel ravenous, causing our appetite to spiral out of control. Heavily-processed foods like some breads and baked goods, cereals, chips, cured meats and fast food are loaded with added sugars, trans fats and excess salt, but it’s the fructose in particular that has been directly linked to the development of obesity, and this is because fructose can’t be further broken down by the body and requires the liver to metabolise it. When we start eating these processed foods for brekkie, lunch and dinner, we push our liver into overdrive, and the result is weight gain, along with increasing the risk for obesity, diabetes and even mood disorders. One of the other ways these highly-processed foods is driving this phenomenon of weight gain and obesity is by the effect it has on our hormones – researchers have found excess fructose can cause leptin resistance, and leptin is the hormone that tells the brain that we’re full. Without it, we’ll lose our sense of satiety and may even find ourselves feeling hungry after finishing an oversized meal.
What to eat instead
- Minimally-processed grains – opt for brown rice, quinoa, wholemeal bread
- Whole fruit and veggies
- Seeds and nuts
- Minimally-processed cheese and yoghurt
- Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and tempeh
- Water, tea and smoothies – homemade!
Plus, with a lot of us still reeling from the shock of the pandemic and struggling to get back on track with our old fitness routines, keep the following in mind if you’re trying to shed those pandemic kilos:
- Get exercising: this will improve your mood by releasing those feel-good endorphins, while also helping maintain your weight.
- Get your sleep: Our appetite hormones, blood sugars and weight are all negatively affected by poor sleep, not to mention, stress and anxiety are exacerbated by a lack of quality sleep.
- Ditch the mindless snacking: If you’re eating, make sure you’re eating mindfully. Try not to distract yourself with TV, your phone or other activities while eating, this will ensure you don’t overeat.
Keen for more health and nutrition tips? We’re here to help. Join us for the 8-Week Program where we’ll be quitting sugar and getting our health goals happening. When you sign up with us, you’ll have access to clear-cut meal plans, community support and exclusive access to our sugar-free content. Here’s what’s on offer:
- 8 weeks of meal plans and shopping lists.
- 90+ member-only recipes.
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- Support and guidance from the I Quit Sugar team.
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So, if you’re ready to ditch sugar and the host of maladies that come with it, JOIN NOW!