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Think You Gained Weight During Quarantine? You Might Be Wrong

FRIDAY, Dec. 25, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- That "quarantine 15" weight gain may be all in your head, not on your hips.

A team from Florida State University (FSU) compared information on actual and perceived weight changes among a sample of college students from January to April 2020. Participants were far more likely to believe they had gained weight — even when they hadn't.

"We found that one in 50 participants had a change in body mass that would change their weight category, about 2% of people," said lead author Pamela Keel, a research professor of psychology at FSU in Tallahassee. "But 10% — five times as many people — described their weight as higher. Some people lost weight, a very few gained, but the vast majority stayed the same."

Students' weight concerns fueled other anxieties, the study found.

"Our participants believed they had gained weight and that increased their concerns about their eating and increased their concerns about their weight," Keel said in a university news release.

"That can set people up to engage in risky behaviors, like extreme dieting, juice cleanses, fasting, excessive exercise and other compulsions around eating and exercising," she added.

Keel urged people to use objective measures instead of subjective feelings to evaluate the pandemic's effects on their weight. If they have concerns, they should talk to their doctor, she added.

Weight is often a convenient place for people to place their worries, especially during times of heightened stress about a threat they can't control, like the COVID-19 pandemic. Keel said warnings from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the risk of severe illness or death is greater in those with elevated body weight can contribute to increased worries about weight gain.

"They are funneling that distress into something they believe they can control and weight is a great punching bag for people," she said. "That's grounded in the diet and weight-obsessed culture and the constant promise that it's just readily in someone's grasp to change the way they feel by changing the way they look."

The findings were recently published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tips on coping with pandemic stress.

SOURCE: Florida State University, news release, Dec. 16, 2020

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