The Quarantine 15: Who Else Is Fighting It and How Can We Fix It?

COVID-19’s unexpected effect on expanding waistlines

Why is my belt so tight? I can’t buckle my skinny jeans. I call out “Honey, I think my pants shrunk in the dryer,” as I loosen my belt a notch to accommodate my new #dadbod.

I don’t think I am alone. My patients are complaining of weight gain too. As a result of the stay-at-home instructions, many of us altered our activity levels, diets, and routines. The result — The Quarantine 15.

Obesity may be an unexpected outcome of this infectious disease pandemic.

Why are we gaining weight?

Various theories attempt to explain the mysterious Quarantine 15. Some blame stress. Stress increases our body’s cortisol production. Cortisol is the “stress hormone” known to increase the appetite.

When under stress, we alter our food intake. Some people undereat. The medical term for undereating stressed-out individuals is “weirdos.” “Normal” people tend to grab a bag of Doritos and dip them in hot fudge covered ice-cream.

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Ice-cream and other sugary carbohydrates trigger a dopamine surge. Dopamine hormone dopamine is produced in the pleasure center of the brain, an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. Dopamine is our mind’s reward system.

When times are tough, rewards and treats provide relief. Some believe we naturally gravitate towards carb-laden foods when stressed out to get a quick energy boost. The sugar rush makes us feel better, temporarily. But what follows is the crash and crave phase. The crash makes us feel hungry again as our brains seek out more dopamine.

Dopamine and cortisol.

Is the Quarantine 15 a result of a complex combination of physiological hormonal changes? Perhaps. But I suspect we are just bored.

Boredom leaves us feeling tired and sluggish. We tell ourselves we were “forced” to stop working out when gym and fitness centers closed during the lockdown. But many did not substitute an evening jog, daily walk, or even get up off the couch.

Not only did we decrease our physical activity, but alcohol sales also skyrocketed up 27% during the pandemic. People are doing less and drinking more, and increased alcohol consumption means more calories.

What goes better with a craft beer than some fresh local takeout! Since restaurants were closed to dine-in, many of us began ordering take-out. Food delivery services increased sales during the lockdown. Many of us ordered food to “to support the local restaurants.”

Hey, we are #inthistogether, and everyone has to do their part.

Photo by eggbank on Unsplash

As we cope with the mental, physical, and emotional stress of the pandemic there are things we can do to stop packing on the pounds. The internet is full of “helpful” tips such as managing stress eating and workouts from home. But the first step in treating any problem is making a conscious decision to work on it. We have to internalize the decision and commit to effort.

Effort and hard work are required if we want to get a handle on our love handles. Weight loss is hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

No quick fixes

I would be a hypocrite to write a listicle of five magic steps to guarantee everyone sheds the extra baggage. Instead, I experience share from my own ups and downs. These weight management hacks help me get back up each time I fall.

  1. Tracking: Use the Myfitness Pal app to track my food and exercise. It provides personal accountability. It is no fun to type in seven cookies. Entering my intake changes my behavior. I try not to judge myself but rather collect the data for monitoring and identifying areas for improvement. Weight is like a business metric problem. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
  2. Hydration: Drink lots of water all day long. Our minds often can not distinguish between the sensation of thirst and hunger. At least that is what my skinny friends tell me… Sounds right…Probably is.
  3. Ask the question: This tip sounds pedantically simplistic, but it works. Ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” This question forces a pause. We stop and process our actions and can sometimes break the reflex eating cycle.
  4. Exercise: It took me 47 years and a medical degree to accept that regular exercise is an important tool for a happy life and a healthy body. The key first step is to decide “this is what I am going to do.” If you are just starting out, set the bar as low as possible. The goal is to make exercise so easy you can’t talk yourself out of it.
  5. Mindfulness: Managing your mind is essential to a healthy body. Find a free meditation app and give it a try. I was highly skeptical but Headspace is now an established part of my day. Reducing the underlying stress can prevent overeating at the starting point.


Medika Life has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by Medika Life

Dr Jeff Livingston
Dr Jeff Livingston
Jeff is Co-Founder of Medika Life. He is a Board Certified Obgyn and CEO of MacArthur Medical Center in Irving, Texas. He is a nationally recognized thought leader, speaker, writer, blogger, and practicing physician who is considered an expert in the use of social media to educate patients, using new and innovative technology to improve care outcomes and the patient experience.
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