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COVID and Being Overweight

We recently heard from the NHS advice that being overweight increases the risk of severe side effects or death if you should get COVID. If you are overweight, what action could you take?

One study found that for people with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 35 to 40, risk of death from COVID increases by 40% and with a BMI over 40 the risk increases by 90%, compared to those not living with obesity. Other data found that in intensive care units, 7.9% of critically ill patients with COVID had a BMI over 40 compared with 2.9% of the general population.

Almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or obese, with people aged 55 to 74, those living in deprived areas and certain black, Asian and minority ethnic groups more severely affected.

So how to find your BMI? There are many calculators online where you just need to put in your height and weight, age, gender and how active you are. A healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9.

So if you are overweight what can you do?

To be blunt; you are overweight because you are putting in more calories than you are using. Therefore to lose weight you reduce the calorie input and increase the amount burnt or used. Simple! 

Anyone who is overweight knows that it is not as simple as just ‘losing weight’. Why we might be overweight can be extremely complicated and have mental and emotional components as well as physical. All of these  elements would need to be addressed.

A good place to start would be to look at your lifestyle. Keep a food diary for at least a week and make a note of what you are eating and drinking, when and how you are feeling. Calories are one way of measuring what we eat, but we need to consider what food those calories are in. Getting calories from eating healthily will improve our overall health ensuring we get the vitamins and minerals needed to build a healthy body. Reducing sugar intake is vital as it has been shown in other reports that sugar increases the level of inflammation in the body which may account for the varied side effects that we are seeing with COVID.

Keep a movement diary for a least a week and make a note of how much you are moving. Note here that I say moving and not just exercise. Activities such as cleaning, housework and gardening are not necessarily considered as exercise, but are movement. Using the body regularly through the day is much better than sitting all day and then doing an exercise for an hour or so at the end.

Losing weight is about understanding why and how we are overweight in the first place. Are we eating the wrong food? Are we eating too much? What time of the day are we eating? Are we comfort eating? Are we eating out of boredom? Are we eating the children’s food and then a meal later with our partner? Are we secret snackers? Is it not food but alcohol? How much am I moving my body during the day and burning those calories?

These are the more obvious reasons, but what about the psychological ones?  These are certainly more tricky and can go back to childhood, be rooted in certain beliefs and much more. Examples would include: being overweight acting as a protection mechanism; shielding yourself from the world or your emotions; I have to be a big person to be someone in the world. 

What role does food play in your life and what are the ‘benefits’ you keep by remaining overweight?

Food can be a way of comforting ourselves, a form of solace, a way of avoiding facing up to situations or confronting what is really going on. We can address our anger, loneliness, depression, or hurt by eating and thus avoid having to confront deep emotional issues. Being fat is a good way of insulating yourself against the world and protecting yourself from being hurt. It also means you can avoid the risk of trying new things—“I’ll do that when I’ve lost weight.” But why not live your life now? You will never get back any of the time already spent.

As with most things, the journey stars with one step and weight loss and increased wellbeing is no different. Set a realistic goal and then break it down into bite-sized chunks that are doable. Do not judge yourself on how big those chunks are – it may be something very small but hugely significant  – such as one less spoon of sugar in your drink, a piece of fruit as opposed to a bag of crisps, a glass of water as opposed to a fizzy drink, getting up every hour and moving round the house, going for a walk every day.

Having a reason why you want to lose weight to keep you motivated on those dark days – which will inevitably happen – will be vital.

If you are finding that you are unable to move or exercise due to pain, stiffness, reduced mobility, or don’t know what exercise you can do, are worried that you may injure yourself, then please, do give us a call and let us help and support you to get moving again – and lose weight.

For more information, look at this NHS information and also this government update about excess weight and COVID.

This article was written by Karen Robinson, our Clinical Director.