Advice

My friend gained a lot of weight during COVID and seems really depressed. How can I help her?

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

My best girlfriend has always been a really athletic, pretty woman, but COVID was hard on her, and I was startled the first time I saw her after hunkering down. She has gained a lot of weight.

Straight away she remarked that I looked great (I look the same as before), and she declared that she looked awful — she referred to herself as “fat and ugly.” I felt terrible that she was assessing herself that way and being so hard on herself. Yes, she’s gained a lot of weight, but she’s a beautiful girl, and given how active she was before, I’m sure she could get back to any size she wanted to.

She seems super depressed. After that first outing, we haven’t met up in person again. She says none of her clothes fit well. She’s still working at home and I think mostly wears sweats and T-shirts. She also lives alone and is single and I don’t think she’s hanging out with anyone.

I want to motivate her to get healthy again and offer her support, but I don’t want to come across like pushy or judgmental. Any advice? I’m just super concerned about her well-being and want my happy girlfriend back.

Wanda says:

A survey conducted earlier this year by the American Psychological Association found that 61% of adults reported undesired weight changes during COVID-19 lockdowns and closures, with 42% reporting weight gain. And it makes sense. It was all too easy during lockdown to eat, drink and sit too much, piling on the comfort calories to cope with the compounding stress, questions and confusion of the pandemic.

[Related: I’m worried my friend’s continued ‘hunkering down’ is actually self-isolation and depression]

So you may start by sharing with your friend that she’s not alone. She probably knows this, but it will help to hear it. Lots of people are figuring out how to reverse adverse developments that affected their health and wellness in 2020, ranging from weight gain to high blood pressure to compiled health issues related to skipping medical and dental appointments.

Instead of inviting her out in public where she’s likely self-conscious about ill-fitting clothes and calorically laden choices like sugary cocktails and restaurant-portioned meals, suggest a walk or a hike. Pick an activity where she can stay in her comfort zone of cozy sweats and hoodies while taking actual steps toward regaining her health at the same time. If she’s up for it, suggest trips together to a gym, or getting together at home to make a healthy but delicious meal while catching up on each other’s lives.

Above all, let her know you’re there to support her, that you sure missed her during COVID, and you think she’s a pretty awesome friend no matter what.

Wayne says:

As much as I’d love to play “Gym Guy” here and strongly recommend my 100% guaranteed Alaska Action Get-Ripped-Super-Quick Wilderness Workout & Nature Nutrition Program, Wanda covered approaching and supporting the physical aspect of your friend’s situation in a much more thoughtful, and subtle, way. So instead, I’ll focus on helping get you and your friend to focus on strengthening the most important muscle, as well. I’m talking brain over biceps.

Like many others, your friend’s struggles coming out of COVID are as much, if not more so, about her mental health as her physical condition. The pandemic did a real number on us: Stress. Loneliness. Depression. Anxiety. Substance abuse. Sadly, even suicide. Often, our mental health struggles affect our physical health and chronic health issues, which then make us feel worse mentally. It’s a tough cycle that can quickly turn into a spiral that’s difficult to stop and seemingly impossible to dig out of.

Fortunately, we’re getting back to a place where we feel comfortable being around friends who care about us and connecting with professionals who can help us get out of ruts and sort out our struggles. Also fortunately, your friend is seemingly being honest with you about her struggles, even if it’s coming through in some negative self-talk. And the most fortunate thing of all for your friend is that you’re there for her, offering a hug and a hand, and that’s the best you can offer her right now. That love and support goes a lot farther than a yoga punch card right now.

There are countless resources offering healthy ways to cope — and help others cope — with common, crippling and crisis COVID mental health situations, starting with the CDC. Do a little research for her and for yourself. And then just be there for her, working at a pace that’s comfortable for her, whether that’s in the gym, the kitchen or on the couch just talking.

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