Doctor urges activity, diet changes to curb surge in obesity

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up many of our daily routines, from what we eat to if and when we exercise, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity rates nationwide are rising dramatically.

What You Need To Know

  • Obesity rates have increased during the COVID pandemic, CDC says
  • More physical activity and improved diets can change that, doctor says
  • Owner of local bar studio says starting and sticking to a routine is key
  • It’s important to focus on how you feel, not immediate results, Christy Noone says 

Florida’s obesity rate is 28.6%, and 16 states now have obesity rates of 35 percent or higher, in part, due to job loss, sedentary lifestyle and stress, the CDC reports. 

This latest health trend is serious for many, but changes in personal lifestyles and habits can be made to improve your health, doctors say.

Inside her Bam Barre studio in Maitland, owner Christy Noone helps many in the community get back on track. Noone says she loves helping the adults who walk through her doors on their journey to improve their mental and physical wellness, reaching health milestones as they go. 

“Most people I talk to say, ‘I want to try it, but I’m intimidated,’ ” Noone says. 

Whether it’s at a gym or a group fitness studio like hers, Noone says the important thing is to start a fitness routine and stick with it.  

“We have all different ages. And the benefit of this, of barre, is that you can do it at any age,” Noone says.  “It’s a low-impact workout, so you can do it for a lifetime. We have some mother-daughter couples that come that are anywhere from 30 to 70 years old, so it’s for everybody.”

But helping people lead healthier lives is about much more than just getting back in shape or losing weight, doctors say.

Dr. Sharon Wasserstrom, an internal medicine physician and lifestyle medicine expert with UCF’s College of Medicine, said cutting down on obesity is important, too.  Obesity often is associated with other health challenges, and people who are obese are also more likely to have complications from COVID-19, according to Wasserstrom. 

“So, obesity has become an epidemic. It’s really all over the world and definitely in the United States, growing and growing,” Wasserstrom said. 

Reducing the nation’s steadily climbing obesity rates will require people to make big lifestyle changes, Wasserstrom says, including implementing a regular fitness routine, reducing stress levels and improving nutrition overall.

“It’s really like the most effective treatment, if you implement it,” Wasserstrom says. 

When it comes to stepping up that fitness routine, Noone says not to focus on the physical results right away.

“I think No. 1 is to feel how you’re going to feel after the class,” Noone says. “Don’t get stuck on, ‘how am I going to get through the class?’ Think of the benefits after, how good it’s going to feel. It’s going to energize your day. You’ll get that serotonin going in the brain and feel more confident. I mean, for me personally, I have a lot more energy and clarity during the day when I get that workout in right away.”

Noone says it’s easy to understand why the added stress and uncertainty in the pandemic led to increases in obesity. But she says small changes can help to turn around that trend, one day at a time.

“I think we all fall into that slump, I mean, and once you get into that rut, it’s hard to get out of it,” Noone says. “But it just takes one step.”

A big piece of the puzzle when it comes to overcoming obesity also means changing up your diet, according to Wasserstrom. She recommends finding fruits and vegetables you like and making sure they take up half of your plate when you have a meal.

It’s also important to include more plant proteins along with animal protein, Wasserstrom says.

“Where are you going to be feeling fuller? When you’re full of fiber and your stomach is stretching and the fibers in your stomach stretching give your brain a signal that you shouldn’t eat any more,” Wasserstrom says. “But if you have this much meat in your stomach and you have 500 calories, you still don’t feel full so you feel like adding another 500 on top of that.” Wasserstrom says. 

Wasserstrom recommends combining a changed diet with stress reduction and regular exercise.

While these changes can require a big adjustment, Wasserstrom says her clients who make them see lasting improvements to their health.

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