UCSF researchers share tips to lose 'quarantine 15' pandemic weight

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- People joke about the "quarantine 15," but studies and a quick conversation with people indicate pandemic weight gain is very real.

"Since quarantine started, I've gained like 12 pounds, which I learned going to the doctor and I had a moment of total panic," said San Francisco resident Zana Nanic.

Half Moon Bay resident Luis Valdez says he's not as active as he was before the pandemic. "I've gained some weight for sure, about 15 pounds," Valdez said.

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Work from home and sudden sedentary lifestyles combined with access to food and stress.

"When we're surrounded by this food and we're cooped up in our house and we don't have our usual activities," said UCSF psychologist Ashley Mason, "what else can we do? We can snack, we can eat. In fact, we can do it all day."

Mason published a study this week that suggests a simple solution for some.

"Get the junk food out of your house," Mason said. "If you don't have Twinkies in your your house, you can't snack on them at 2 a.m. or at 2 p.m. between quick Zoom meetings. If it's not there, you can't eat it."

A year ago, UCSF banned the sale of sugar sweetened beverages at their hospitals and on their campuses. That includes non-diet sodas, sports drinks, sweetened teas and coffee.

The ban resulted in a 45% drop in consumption of sugary drinks and a 2 centimeter reduction in belly fat among a sample of UCSF employees.

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"The other key thing that we also found, was that why you drink sugary beverages matters," explained Mason.

For people who really crave sugary drinks, the study found a 10 minute counseling session helped more than removing the source of temptation.

Health psychologist Elissa Epel says focusing on why people want to drink less sugar was helpful.

"They figured out what made them want to reduce their drinking, rather than someone saying, 'This is bad for you,'" Elissa explained. "Sometimes it was wanting to not get diabetes like their grandparents and wanting to live to see their grandchildren."

Epel says if you're looking to improve your health and eliminate foods from your diet, sweetened drinks should be the first to go.

"It turns out that you could eat some nice piece of cake that has the same amount of sugar as your drink, and the drink is worse for you," said Epel. "The drink has sugar that can go right to your blood and right to your brain. It's like a more potent drug because of how fast it hits your brain, and it causes that reward response just like drugs of abuse."

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