When the coronavirus pandemic began, we all hoped it would be temporary. So I didn’t feel too badly about seeking a little comfort in Lucky Charms, cakes and brownies. Life, after all, was incredibly stressful. I was co-hosting “Morning Joe” from my house, covering the pandemic and the presidential election, managing the needs of our seven kids, taking care of 88-year-old mother and more.
The outcome? I gained 15 pounds and felt physically and mentally awful. And while I still don’t judge myself for it, I knew it was time to press reset.
It wasn’t about the number on the scale. In fact, it wasn’t even a factor because I wasn’t weighing myself. But I noticed I was sluggish and not on point. My skin didn’t look fresh, and my clothes felt tight.
I took an honest look at my daily routine. Prior to the pandemic, I was exercising regularly and I had been doing so well managing my lifelong addiction to sugar.
When COVID-19 hit, I figured a brownie here and there wouldn’t hurt. It was soothing. But by month four, it was a glass of wine and a brownie, and then a second and third brownie. Meanwhile, my exercise wasn’t as consistent. I found myself dreading going for my daily run because of the added stress and the summer heat. So sometimes, I backed off.
I hopped on the scale and found out I’d gone quickly from 140 to 155 pounds. “Whoa, that escalated”, I thought. “Time to reset.”
To start that process, what was key was not to get upset at myself. After all, this is a once-in-a-lifetime, gut-wrenching, major moment in history. At the same time, I knew I had to recognize that this crisis wasn’t going away anytime soon. I didn’t want to feel this physically and mentally unwell for months on end. Something had to change.
For me, how I felt at the 15-pounds-gained mark was enough to shake me into resetting—in a realistic way.
I don’t eat three brownies in a sitting anymore, but I do have one! And I’m good with that. It’s a way to lower the bar for myself without complete deprivation. Overall, I’m also focusing on being more mindful about what I eat, because it’s easy to just graze on snacks when you’re home all day.
On the exercise front, I needed to bring running back to a happy place. Physical activity is directly tied to my mood. I leaned into that as the motivation to get myself moving again. And like most things, it’s gotten a bit easier as time goes on, and I hold myself accountable. There are still days, however, where I really need to push myself to lace up my running shoes and get out the door.
I’m happy to report that the hard work has paid off. I’m five pounds away from my pre-quarantine weight. More importantly, I feel good.
The hard truth is that during this difficult time, many people feel they lack the time and energy to do anything for themselves. I, for one, know how hard it can be to get up and exercise when you’re feeling blah—and how tempting it is to turn to sugary food for comfort. But we must realize if we don’t take action to keep our own cups full, we have nothing left to give or share with others.
I’m asking you to dig deep. Know Your Value is often focused on this for professional success, but now I’m asking you to do it for your body. For yourself.
This is especially important for those of us who are also caring for kids or parents. And it might require you to get inventive: You may have to go for that run at 5 a.m. before the kids wake up, or save a post-bedtime evening hour for a yoga session. You might choose to keep it to one snack serving instead of two, and look to find comfort in other things.
Again, the key is to give yourself some grace. Don’t judge yourself for your pandemic candy habit or not signing up for that virtual Zumba class. You are getting through this, day after day, and that alone is a huge feat right now.
Instead, come to this from a place of love for yourself. Good food and exercise will give you a physical and mental boost that is sorely needed right now.
I know I’m asking you for a lot. But I also know you’re worth it.
I’d love to hear about your exercise and eating routines. If you’re a gym rat, are you now exercising in your house? Have you found any healthy snacks you love? Are you exercising at a different time or in a different way? Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.