I keep seeing posts about the "quarantine 15" and weight gain during social distancing. Here's what you should know before you freak out about some extra pounds.

One thing that seems to be on some people's minds right now is gaining weight while they're socially distancing and stuck at home. I've seen quite a few memes about "summer bodies" being on hold until 2021 and lots of home workouts and home workout challenges. I even heard of someone recommending tight pants to help keep you from overeating. (Umm, no thanks. My quarantine wardrobe consists of pajamas and "fancy" sweatpants). While I'm all for getting in your fruits and vegetables and working out if you want to, it's also a perfectly acceptable pandemic response to not want to do any of those things.

Here are a few things I keep coming back to:

  1. We are all impacted in some way by COVID-19 and the shutdowns and changes happening.
  2. We are all processing this differently and all those ways are valid (except for people actually endangering the health of others and their own health—I have zero tolerance for that).
  3. Sweatpants are amazing.

My point is, we're all processing our new "normal" and I'm not here to judge you if you're worried about gaining weight. What I am hoping to do, is help you realize that maybe you don't need to be so worried about it in the first place.

Hand getting popcorn from a bowl
Credit: Getty Images / Vesna Jovanovic / EyeEm

Gaining weight feels like a real worry

I'm not going to stand on a soap box and say that weight gain doesn't matter right now because there are people with much bigger problems in the world. It's true. There are much, much bigger things to worry about than gaining weight, but it doesn't make your feelings and concerns less valid. It's OK to worry about the small things and the big things.

For people who have been trying to lose weight, having to stay home and have your routine turned upside down can feel very scary. For people who have eating disorders or disordered eating habits, stress can exacerbate those diseases.

Gyms are closed. Restaurants are closed. Most of us aren't leaving our homes (thank you to the essential workers who are). It's a time of great anxiety and stress for many of us right now. There's also specific stresses related to food and with people panic buying at the grocery store, it can feel like there isn't enough. (Rest assured, experts say we don't need to worry about a food shortage, but nonetheless our shopping and eating habits may feel brand new and a little scary.)

On top of that, you're now at home—in close proximity to your fridge and pantry—and your routine has been flipped upside down. You may be craving comfort foods, like cookies and macaroni and cheese. So, what can you do with that weight-gain worry?

Why you don't need to worry about weight gain

No one can say for sure how long these social distancing orders are going to last. I think we can expect that while this will go on for longer than we may want, it's still going to be relatively short term in the grand scheme of things. Hopefully, just a matter of weeks or months. To your body, that's short term (even though, yes it will feel like a long time—and yes, it's worth it for the greater good). You're not going to do lasting harm to your health or your weight in a few weeks or months.

Your eating habits are going to look different. Your movement may look different. You may find that going for a run is therapeutic and you may find that curling up on the couch feels better. You may have more time to cook dinner and start making homemade bread, or you may have less time than you've ever had before and cracking open a can of soup is good enough.

You may gain a few pounds. But it does it really matter?

What happens if you do gain weight?

First off, no one can see you. Hooray for quarantining! Mostly kidding here. Of course, only your opinion on your body matters, but it's not like we're going out and needing to look our best.

Weight is probably not as big of an indicator for health as some people believe, so you're all set there. And right now, our overall health—including (but not limited to) our mental health, our protection from this virus and our safety is so important. Much more important than a few extra pounds.

Sure, getting enough sleep, eating a well-balanced diet, trying not to stress too much and regular exercise (walks count!) can be beneficial habits for our overall well-being (here's how I recommend staying healthy while you're stuck at home).

Also, if you're getting wrapped up in the little things (yes, I would call weight gain a little thing) try to remember to take things one day at a time. Think of something positive that happened today. Do something that helps you de-stress, whether that's doing some online yoga or having a glass of wine. When all this is over, if your pants fit a little bit tighter, I think you'll just be grateful to put them on and leave the house.

Welcome to The Beet. A weekly column where nutrition editor and registered dietitian Lisa Valente tackles buzzy nutrition topics and tells you what you need to know, with science and a little bit of sass.