#Quarantine15 can be funny, but not worth stressing about

Sonoma County fitness and nutrition experts have seen the memes and internet jokes.

There are the pictures of fresh-baked bread with the hashtag #Quarantine15, alluding to the 15-pound weight gain that some are experiencing while stress eating during the coronavirus pandemic. Or the rack of unused gym weights labeled #COVID19, poking fun at the sedentary lifestyles and expanding waistlines that others report as Sonoma County heads into week 11 of shelter-in-place restrictions, which have forced many to work from home while barring them from the gym.

Those experts have some advice for folks feeling nervous about the number they see on the scale: Let it go.

“Fitness routines are being thrown off, work schedules are thrown off, dietary patterns can dramatically change in times like these,” said Nicole Merryman, a registered dietitian in Rohnert Park. “There can definitely be a shift in people’s weight as well with people being at home more, with more stress, more time on their hands - they might feel like food is a really good coping mechanism.”

But the memes and the internet jokes? Don’t let them get you further stressed, she said.

“It would be helpful not to be so hard on themselves because of what is going on,” she said. “It’s good that people are being mindful but it’s also a situation where this isn’t going to last forever. And it can potentially feed into people’s body image issues as well.”

Just as it might not be helpful to obsess over celebrities complaining about sheltering in place in their 25-room mansions, it might also not be helpful to like or chuckle over social media memes poking fun at added pounds.

“It’s a very emotional time for the world. I think people are worried about this and they see it on Instagram or whatever and it becomes kind of joke at other people’s (expense) who do have an issue with weight,” said Kelli Ruderman, a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor in Santa Rosa. “I feel like there are a lot more important things to focus on than this #Quarantine15, people. People are stressed and yes, emotional eating does occur, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. People are taking care of their mental health.”

But it’s not easy, not with companies like PepsiCo, which reported a jump in its April sales of products like Doritos and Lays chips, announcing last week that it has launched a direct-to-consumer website. That means snack lovers can now get any amount of Cheetos, Fritos and Grandma’s Chocolate Chip Cookies delivered discreetly to your door.

And consumers, heeding health officials’ warnings about limiting trips to grocery stores, are trending toward stocking up on foods with a longer shelf life. Translation: Fewer fruits and veggies and more processed foods.

A Credit Suisse report found that snack sales - candy, cookies, chips, crackers, nuts and yogurt - were up 39 percent over the same week in March 2019. Alcohol? Sales were up 55 percent, with the largest spike in ready-to-drink cocktails. Frozen pizza sales were up 117 percent year over year.

For many, food choices can be both emotional and practical. A global pandemic is unprecedented, so experts agree it is only natural our daily habits, eating and otherwise, might be shaken up.

“I think the main worry is people are just at home and there is boredom and they are worried and not listening to their bodies,” Ruderman said.

A change in work life can dramatically change how and why people eat, too. Those out of work? They might be dealing with financial anxiety. Those working from home? They face a change in patterns that can also change the way they eat.

“I have heard that people that would pack their lunch for the day now just have access all day long, so it might shift the way people eat from more meal-based to more grazing and it’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Ruderman said. “If it’s done mindlessly and you have a bowl of snacks and are not listening to your body and not engaged, then yes. But that could happen at the office too.”

Being mindful about why we are turning to food, and when, is important, as is cutting yourself a break, said Rachel Marcus, health and wellness director for the Sonoma County YMCA.

“People’s habits change, eating habits and sleeping habits,” she said. “For me, in the coaching work that I do and the role I play at the Y, I really like to focus people back on what feeling at peace looks like for them, what supports their wellbeing. If we have to sometimes turn to food to help us feel better in this crazy time it’s not the end of the world. We are getting through this the way that we know how to.”

Along with changes in eating habits, many locals have been turned away from their gyms or basketball courts or other places they used to work out. Finding a place to comfortably burn off some of that anxiety can sometimes be tricky.

Staci Fiori, a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach in Santa Rosa, said some clients have embraced Zoom classes, “showing up” far more frequently and to a wider variety of classes than they did in person. But others, she said, have been no-shows.

“My philosophy is even if you are not working out with me, are you doing something? Are you walking? Are you moving? It’s mental health,” she said.

With its facilities - pool, gym, classrooms - closed to the public, the YMCA has been offering Zoom classes as well as posted exercise videos. Classes include yoga, pilates, Zumba and meditation and are free and open to all, not just members. There are also links to exercise and activities for kids, recipes and a link to Sonoma County’s warm line for those feeling emotional stress and anxiety as a result of the pandemic.

“We have offered this virtual hub, not just for members but the community to tap into,” said Michelle Head, the YMCA’s chief operations officer.

The organization, which has approximately 6,000 individual Sonoma County YMCA members, has recorded nearly 1,600 visits to its Zoom classes and other videos on its website, according to Head.

There are tricks to hosting fitness classes virtually, often beyond the technology barrier, Marcus said. Not all clients have weights at home, not everyone has an inflatable exercise ball or stationary bike.

“I teach a senior fitness class and for people who don’t have weights I use a can of beans or water bottle. We have had to get creative with not using copyright music,” she said.

That likely sounds familiar to Fiori. She loaned out a good chunk of her equipment when the shelter-in-place began, but even so some of her clients don’t have dumbbells or other weights.

No matter.

“I have people using kitty litter. I have people using laundry soap,” she said.

Her classes are the definition of building functional strength. Her clients aren’t deadlifting bars loaded with weights in their living rooms. They are reaching high with a jug of juice in their hands.

Fiori and other trainers say online classes are likely here to stay, at least in some way or another. The YMCA, too, is expanding its online offerings, all with the intention of giving people options to find wellness.

This is likely the new normal, Marcus said, and people are being asked to change how they approach many different aspects of their lives. It may feel like we’ve been in this forever, but it’s still the early days, she said.

“It’s OK to have a period of adjusting and figuring out what works” she said.

You can reach staff writer Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield

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