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‘Post-pandemic body’ workout frenzy: Is the rapid transformation healthy?

Trainers say they’ve seen significant increases in clients aiming to look their best by the time the world fully reopens.

As coronavirus cases decline and vaccines roll out, many fitness fans say they want to get in shape by the time the pandemic ends.
As the number of coronavirus cases declines and vaccines roll out, many fitness fans say they want to get in shape by the time the pandemic ends.
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Lindsey Appiah had a tough time staying in shape during the pandemic.

With gyms closed and fewer opportunities to walk around while working from home, the Washington, D.C., attorney, who had lost 70 pounds over the previous four years, saw her strict fitness regimen fall by the wayside and gained about 15 pounds.

“When you lose a lot of weight, having been overweight for a long time, there’s always this fear in the back of your head of gaining weight back,” Appiah said. ”It’s almost like this thing chasing you.”

So when Appiah started noticing a growing number of social media posts about achieving a ”post-pandemic body” — getting fit for when the world returns to normal — it struck a nerve.

“Do we really need to revert back to something that wasn’t even a healthy way of thinking to begin with?” she said. “It just felt really wrong to me.”

Appiah isn’t the only person feeling pressure to lose weight. As vaccines have rolled out, trainers say they’ve seen significant increases in the number of people aiming to look their best by the time the world fully reopens.

Fitness and mental health professionals caution against quick physical transformations — especially after a year that was traumatic for so many.

January is usually the busiest time of year for many personal trainers, including Benjamin Stone in Los Angeles, with new clients motivated by New Year’s resolutions. But as the number of coronavirus cases surged in his area at the start of this year, the calls never came.

“It was really strange,” Stone said. ”Those New Year’s resolutions didn’t happen, and it’s almost like a pandemic resolution now. It’s, like, three months later, now I’m getting all the calls.”

Stone’s new-client inquiries increased fivefold from January to March, with many saying they want to get in shape by the time the pandemic ends.

Gabbi Berkow — a dietitian, exercise physiologist, personal trainer and Pilates instructor in New York City — said that during one week in March she got double the number of new-client inquiries compared to a pre-pandemic week.

“There’s definitely the goal of looking lean and toned in summer clothes as we’re coming closer to summer and as the pandemic is lessening,” she said.

Kaitlin McCarthy, a senior at Boston College, says she and her peers see renewed fitness as a way to cope with time and opportunities lost to the pandemic.

“I look back at [pre-pandemic] photos of myself, and I’m kind of mourning that I’ve lost that,” said McCarthy, who gained weight in 2020, as did 71 million other Americans ,according to a December survey. “I think it’s this manifestation of loss that makes people want to lose more weight.”

Though the post-pandemic body is about physique, it can have mental health ramifications, therapists say.

Karin Schwartz, a Los Angeles clinical psychologist, said most of her clients who struggle with eating disorders have felt pressure to lose weight in anticipation of post-pandemic life. That’s also affected many of her clients who don’t struggle with eating disorders, she said.

“People really strive to be the best version of themselves, especially when they come out of lockdown, and they think that means being thinner,” she said, “which isn’t necessarily meaning that they’re going to be happier or healthier.”

Jane Teixeira, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Sacramento, California, said the prospect of seeing people after the pandemic has heightened body image issues.

“It can be that corresponding panic of, ‘Oh, I wasn’t expecting to see people this soon,’ or maybe there’s some shame associated with how our bodies have changed in this past year that starts to creep up,” she said.

It’s certainly possible to get in shape in healthy ways. Here are tips trainers recommend:

  • Start slow. ”You can’t just jump right back into working out six, seven days a week like you did in the beginning,” said Noam Tamir, founder and chief executive officer of the New York City gym TS Fitness. “You’ll burn yourself out. You can get injured. You can stunt your progress because you’re just doing too much.”
  • Get plenty of sleep and water. ”If you’re not considering those pieces,” said Los Angeles personal trainer Jason Zenga, “then it’s pretty hard to make the right food choices, and it’s pretty hard to have the energy to do any type of workout.”
  • Lasting results take time. “The slower you lose weight, the more sustainable it’ll be,” Berkow said. “Focus on making healthy lifestyle changes instead of a crash diet or starving yourself to fit in a bikini.”

Read more at usatoday.com