How to Lose Weight During a Pandemic – But More Importantly, Why

Carolyn V. Murray

Image by Vidmir Raic from Pixabay

From the very beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, there was a very clear tie between COVID-19 and obesity. There are a multitude of other factors: diabetes, hypertension, cancer, a variety of immunocompromised conditions. But obesity itself looms large as a major culprit for the worst effects of the virus.

A study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill concluded that people with COVID-19 who were classified as obese (BMI over 30) had a 113% higher risk of ending up in the hospital, a 74% higher risk of needing intensive care, and a 48% higher chance of dying.

There were also many people speculating that obesity would render the vaccine to be less effective, and that seems to be confirmed recently. These are all alarming facts for the 42% of Americans classified as obese, and for the friends and family who love them.

As for myself, I was really terrified that my extra weight was going to doom me.

Middle-aged weight gain is no joke

I’ve been struggling with my weight for several years now, certainly since I turned fifty. I weighed 155 pounds that year. How could I remember such a thing? Because I saved money for a year and a half to treat myself to four weeks in Europe for my fiftieth birthday. But I had never been so heavy and none of my clothes fit. I spent an agonizing day trying to shop and find something flattering. Pants were a struggle. I almost cried with joy to find a navy pair of Tommy Hilfiger wide-bottomed pants that fit over my thick waist.

One hundred fifty-five may not sound like a lot, but I had spent most of my adult life in the mid-120s to mid-130s. And whenever I needed to lose weight, two to three months of exercise and dieting always did the trick.

Fast forward to age 57, and even 155 pounds was a distant memory.

No, I wasn’t obese

But I was close. I know the BMI charts are a bit problematic because they don’t take into account body composition. But to be honest, I would do poorly even if I had access to an accurate body composition measurement – at age 58, I know that I’ve lost a lot of muscle mass in the past two decades.

I’m 5 feet, 4 ½ inches. Yes, I’m being very precise. Overweight for a 5 feet, five-inch woman is 145 to 169 pounds. Closer to 174 is where her obese category would start. I was 168.

I had been traveling and writing for over two years, doing the digital nomad thing, primarily in Southeast Asia, where noodle dishes and icy, sugary drinks did me in. I actually bought a scale and lugged it with me from one country to another, because if I’m attempting a serious weight loss effort, I really need to be able to measure it.

They say you need to know your “why”

There were so many reasons to lose weight. There’s a lot of diabetes in my family. Both my parents had strokes. It was just inconceivable that my weight wasn’t going to turn into a life-threatening condition and I was quite frustrated with my several brief and abandoned attempts at weight loss.

And at the risk of seeming extremely superficial, I was ready to head back home after two years away and I didn’t want to come back overweight. Incidentally, it would have been right in time for my 40th high school reunion, which I didn’t want to attend overweight. And at 58 and still single, I realize that my chances for success in the dating pool are significantly reduced by the extra weight. Whew…got all my superficials out of the way in one fell swoop. Just keepin’ it real.

I think our vanity and preoccupation with our weight can actually be used positively as a motivation to do all the things that we should be doing for our longevity and health, but wouldn’t do if it didn’t have such a dramatically beneficial result on our appearance.

But it wasn’t diabetes, or heart disease, or vanity that finally gave me the determination I needed for the discipline of a long-term weight loss program. It was COVID-19.

It was all pretty horrifying, wasn’t it?

I read about one COVID death after another. Saw one heartbreaking video after another. Listened to family testimonials and grief. I was hurting for them and terrified for myself.

I got a bad bout of bronchitis in January 2020 (at a New Year’s Eve party!) I’ve gotten it before in previous years but hadn’t had it in close to five years. I thought it would linger for about two months as it usually does. But it was still going strong in mid-March when COVID-19 seemed to be spreading like wildfire in the U.S. (By early 2021, we’ve all witnessed what serious COVID wildfire actually looks like.)

I canceled my trip back to the U.S. and settled in for a long-term stay in Mexico. I studied the immune system and take a handful of pills every day to make sure I’m not deficient in anything critical (multi-vitamin, C, D3, zinc, magnesium, and selenium. Don’t forget the selenium – it’s critical.)

And I got very serious about weight loss. Because if I ever did get COVID, I wanted to give my body the best chance for survival. Whether the extra weight caused inflammation or put too much pressure on the lungs – I didn’t even know all the specifics. I just knew that losing weight finally felt like a life-or-death issue to me. And there was no temptation more important to me than making it out of this pandemic alive.

Low carb, of course - what else?

My middle-aged body doesn’t seem to know what to do with wheat or sugar anymore besides turning it into fat. I could handle a much higher carb diet back in the day. But it was now definitely preventing my body from getting into fat-burning mode. So, I aimed for a keto-ish diet, with my highest carb count coming from the two guava fruit that I ate with my breakfast.

I had egg scramble every morning, with bacon, onion, mushroom, and salsa. I call it breakfast, but it was eaten as late as one p.m. since I was intermittent fasting and only eating two meals a day. (Your need for calories really goes down when you get older, especially after typical muscle loss.)

I usually bought a takeout meal for dinner and would toss the tortillas and rice aside and eat what was left! Definitely lazy keto, at best. But I spent the Mexico summer in an apartment with no air conditioning. I was never in a cooking mood in the evenings.

My sweet tooth is as bad as anyone’s and I had to figure out a way to satisfy it without caving in to desserts. I had four sources of sweetness in my life: stevia-sweetened hot tea - Earl Grey and Chai, cold drinks - Diet peach tea, and Diet Dr. Pepper (okay, not ideal) the guava fruit, and dark chocolate. I still eat so much dark chocolate, it’s not funny. (And it’s not cheap.) But it keeps me from craving sugary treats.

Pork rinds for no-carb crunch. Good for guacamole.

When I plateaued at twenty pounds, I did three consecutive days of OMAD – one meal a day. Those were tough. But they worked. And I did go to the effort of making homemade keto meals for this little stretch, including two big salad meals. Seven to ten days later, I would do it again. Overall, I did that about five times. Pushed me right through the plateau.

Half an hour walk every day. A free one-month dance class online. I intended to add weights but procrastinated because of old back and shoulder injuries. (That’s the next big project.)

And let me be clear, I'm no diet doctor. I know my diet is still in need of improvement - a lot more vegetables would be a step in the right direction.


Cut to the chase - between March and my birthday in July, I was down twenty-six pounds. That was when I knew it was going to be a permanent loss. By about November, I reached a thirty-five-pound loss.

Public service message - collagen supplements are helpful. After four months of daily collagen, the loose skin disappeared.

I still have those navy pants that were my lifesaver at 155 pounds. At 133 pounds, they almost fall to the floor. Even the belt I brought with me (unwearable at 168) stands out three or four inches away from me at its tightest notch. Good problems.

I not only feel more protected against dying from COVID, I feel much younger than I have in the past decade. Which is a great reminder of how much life there is still ahead of me. That’s what it was all about.

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At the moment, I'm highly interested in the ways in which we can cope and thrive during, after, and despite a global pandemic. My background is in sociology, education, and creative writing. If you were to scroll through the tabs on my laptop, you'd find music, travel, politics, longevity, and brain health.


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