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Why You Gained Weight After COVID-19

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

Throughout the pandemic, many of us have found ourselves having to go up a pants size or two. And while some of these extra pounds can be explained by unhealthy quarantine habits or lifestyle changes, there may be an underlying factor at play.

Recent studies are finding a link between a COVID-19 infection and a subsequent weight gain. However, this weight gain is not caused by quarantine, but by physiological disruptions caused by the coronavirus infection.

Check out our Metabolic Reset Program to start losing weight.

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COVID-19 Weight Gain:

According to a 2021 study by the American Psychological Association, 42% of adults have reported undesired weight gain since the start of the pandemic. The average amount gained is around 29 pounds. Further, one in 10 people have reported gaining over 50 pounds!

For many people, this weight gain can be explained by changes in lifestyle habits. If you think you fit into this category, don’t worry, it’s very common to gain weight during times of emotional struggle (like during an international pandemic). Not only does stress make it harder to lose weight, but it can also cause us to fall back on unhealthy, yet comforting, habits.

Here are just some of the reasons millions of Americans found themselves gaining weight throughout the pandemic:

  • Less home-cooked meals

  • Increased alcohol consumption

  • Less time spent in the gym

  • More snacking

  • Less time spent commuting

  • More time spent sedentary

For many, COVID-19 weight gain can be explained by the factors above. However, as touched on earlier, for people who have had a coronavirus infection, a condition called polyphagia could be behind those extra added pounds.

Polyphagia & COVID-19:

Polyphagia, also known as hyperphagia, is a medical term used to describe excessive hunger or increased appetite. There are over 15 known causes of the condition, from diabetes and hyperthyroidism to anxiety, depression, and stress. The commonality between all of the causes of polyphagia is that all of them involve disturbances in the regulation of pathways that control food intake and energy balance. Moreover, these pathways are largely located in your central nervous system (CNS).

And, as we know, a COVID-19 infection can cause symptoms that involve the central nervous system, like headache, dizziness, brain fog, and confusion. Therefore, it’s likely that a COVID-19 infection in the CNS could affect neural tissues and pathways that could lead to polyphagia.

Recent studies have demonstrated just that- after recovering from a COVID-19 infection, some people find themselves with an extreme, insatiable appetite. The researchers hypothesized that COVID-19 can cause degeneration of neuronal cells and other cells in the brain. This degeneration can lead to the damage of pathways that control the hormones associated with appetite and fullness, leading to polyphagia. Further, if the damage is severe, it could lead to a complete failure in appetite control.

Case study:

Polyphagia causes appetite changes far outside the realm of what is considered to be “normal.” For example, consider this case study:

One study linking polyphagia and COVID-19 followed a 41-year-old woman who suffered from a severe COVID-19 infection. The woman in the study had no history of eating disorders. However, after recovering from COVID-19, she noticed that her appetite had changed significantly. She found herself excessively hungry and often unable to control the amount of food she was eating. As a result, the woman gained 35 pounds and developed heightened blood sugar levels well above the normal range. The woman’s appetite increased so much that her eating habits went from 3 meals a day to 1-2 meals every 2 hours. This includes frequent snacking. The woman found herself unable to commute to work or walk to the store without bringing along a snack. Moreover, the woman’s appetite was insatiable. She now was eating the same amount of food normally consumed by three members of her family. When the woman would not eat, she would suffer from tremors, headaches, jittering, shortness of breath, irritability, and memory problems. However, after a meal, all of these symptoms would spontaneously disappear.

Obviously, the symptoms and changes in appetite are far from changes in lifestyle habits caused by the pandemic. It is clear that a physiological change caused by her COVID-19 is the root of her appetite change and subsequent weight gain.

How to reverse symptoms of polyphagia?

Unfortunately, curing polyphagia and an increased appetite following a COVID-19 infection is a very complicated process. The solution largely has to do with reducing inflammation throughout the body. At the Johnson Center, this is done by focusing on:

  1. Histamine reduction → using perilla feeds and curcumin

  2. Gut health → with the assistance of butyrate and megaspore probiotic

  3. Mitochondrial health → supplementing with acetyl l carnitine, amino acids, and COQ10.

In the meantime, here are some tips to help manage symptoms of polyphagia and lose that quarantine-15:

  • Drink sufficient water! Water is a great tool to help combat overeating. A 2016 study found that being dehydrated is strongly correlated with having an elevated BMI or obesity. Researchers aren’t totally sure of the link behind this relationship. But many hypothesize that it has to do with people misinterpreting thirst for hunger.

  • If you’re hungry throughout the day, try eating several small meals that are low in calories and high in fiber. This will slow glucose absorption and stop you from feeling so hungry.

  • Don’t try restrictive diets to force yourself to stop eating. When you restrict certain foods from your diet, you will develop an uncontrollable desire for these particular foods. This phenomenon is simply due to human biology. While you may drop the pounds quickly on a restrictive diet, it is not sustainable.

  • Make sure you’re eating enough after a workout. Eating too little or the wrong thing after a workout can affect your hunger levels for the rest of the day. After exercising, your body needs to be refueled with carbohydrates and protein 30 to 60 minutes after your workout to ensure optimal recovery.

  • Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. It only takes a single night of disrupted or inadequate sleep to affect your appetite for the following days. Inadequate sleep can lead to an increase in the hunger hormone, ghrelin, while also decreasing the levels of the hormone that causes you to feel full, leptin.

  • Try eating slower. When you eat solely, your brain will have more time to realize the stomach is full and communicate to stop eating. A 2015 study found that those who slowly ate a 400-milliliter bowl of tomato soup reported feeling more full after the meal than those who quickly ate the meal.

If you think you suffer from polyphagia and want to find a solution or want additional help combatting your quarantine-15, click here to contact us. Or call 276-235-3205 to schedule your complimentary discovery call.

The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach / Norfolk locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!


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