Get back to your pre-Covid body today with these steps

At five am this Monday I stood in the early cold just outside our local Planet Fitness. James lets us in, and we pad through the door to the bright lights and music. It’s a welcome sight, the shining machines and vacuumed floors. We’ve missed it here in Oregon. Those of us who are early risers are deeply grateful for the return to the grind of machines, the comforting regularlity of the workouts, and the push and pull of our bodies trying very hard to recapture what we lost.

Many of us lost a bit of muscle on one hand, and gained a little pudge, on the other.

Those of us who take the time to acknowledge fellow sufferers nod, grin, and we often slap that part of us which expanded a little more than we like, not without humor, but also with that inevitable annoyance of folks who had made good progress and here we are again.

I can relate.

I put on my share, lost it, and a little came back, albeit not much. That’s hard work.

My sports chiro, Dr. Kevin Plummer, has been working with an increased load of folks coming into his practice who have an increased load on their bodies. He told me this morning, after putting my spine back in shape, that he does NOT support a diet “plan.”

I loved that. Here’s what he offered as a different way to go about this.

First, rather than categorize food into good and bad, which we are wont to do, and which inevitably causes us to want what is bad and eschew chewing what is good (like this plate of broccoli next to my left elbow, no really) he suggests taking a careful look at what you love to eat.

While you and I both know what is clearly not good for us, a good question, he says, is how much we need of it, and when. And if we are interested in fueling our bodies for work, so that we can strengthen them again, maybe it’s time to consider what’s going on with us.

Plummer sees two big trends in those of us who are coming out of quarantine with a bit or a lot of extra padding. This might be you:

Like so many athletes who, when they retire, continue to eat as though they’re still dressing for the game, the body stores what it doesn’t burn off.

Second, he says that the other thing is the people stress eat. Many of us turned to comfort food, like dense casseroles, which are intensely full of calories, or lots of sugary snacks.

Besides, many of us are trained from birth to associate sweets with comfort. It’s natural to want sweets when we’re stressed. The problem is when we eat lots of them to the point where your body can’t recover itself.

Plummer tells his kids that it’s not that you can’t have sugar at all. You can use sugar to help fuel a workout, but if you’re not working out at all, the sugar ends up spiking your insulin and doing damage to your organs to boot.

That’s a lot to digest, and I’m not referring just to the food.

It’s a little like flooding our engines. It can’t start when there’s too much fuel. For that matter, Plummer laughs, neither can we.

Here’s how you might start out.

Photo by LOGAN WEAVER / Unsplash

Take a look at your favorite foods. Is there a way you can change when you eat them? Do you notice feeling heavy or logey after certain kinds of foods?

If so, Plummer says that you might want to switch out when you consume them in order to feel your best when you start your workouts again.

Second, portion size. Is it possible to start cutting back a little? It might be tempting to go for seconds or thirds, but if you’re overloading yourself it’s awfully hard to feel sprightly and energetic. Sometimes eating just a little of what you love can go a long way. If you can convince yourself to peel back a tiny bit each time, after a while a smaller portion might be just be enough.

Third, sometimes you can play mind tricks. Perhaps you want a piece of pie ( or three or four). Sometimes a hot, rich coffee can be really satisfying, and serve the purpose of filling you up- without filling you out at the same time.

When you and I organize foods into good and bad, that creates cravings and an adversarial relationship with our sustenance. While some foods surely are more nutritious, as you slowly but surely work back into beast mode, you needn’t beat yourself up. Plummer advises to take it slowly.

I put this to work myself this past year. When we first went into lockdown I loaded up on chocolate almonds. Being far more accustomed to eating crisp apples than candy, my body responded precisely how you would expect: I expanded. Not only did I pile on the calories, but the gyms had closed, and several injuries kept me from cardio work. Insult after insult, and after a while I was up more than twenty pounds for the first time in three decades.

While there were other factors at work here, I had to retrain my overheated sweet tooth. I imposed on a friendly neighbor to relieve me of my chocolate almond supplies. She did so happily. Then I went back to big bowls of apples, which, over time I began to prefer. The crunch and the fiber quickly replaced the sugar high of the almonds, and I felt much better. As I’ve returned to workouts, I’ve also returned to the smaller sized clothing I wore pre-Covid. It most certainly didnt happen overnight, but it did happen.

By now, what I largely crave are berries, bananas, apples, pears, cherries, not chocolate or candy, In fact, the honey that I use to sweeten my green tea is a little too sweet. That took months. I did it slowly, as Plummer advised. After a while, not only did I stop craving the chocolate, I no longer even register its presence when I shop. It doesn’t exist any more.

Plummer’s one of those athletes who has trouble keeping weight on, which was my brother’s problem. However, just because you can drink bacon grease doesn’t mean you should. The body can handle occasional abuse, especially if young. However once you and I hit middle age, it makes sense to temper our enthusiasm.

Retraining our appetites and our sweet tooth after a year in lockdown isn’t impossible. Nor should it be all or nothing. You can try gradually weaning yourself back to the occasional reward after a long bike ride or rough day at the gym, as you start to trade couch time for crunches again.

You might even notice that all those cuts and striations are right were you left them, and that’s even more incentive to fuel yourself well. As with all things, a sense of humor and patience will go a long way towards making your return to full throttle a lot more fun.

ballet dancer at sunrise
Photo by David Hofmann / Unsplash