How My Body Changed During the Pandemic

Here's what the pandemic has taught this serious runner about caring for, accepting, and loving her body.

Sue Gury01Courtesy Sue Gury

Some people have gained weight during lockdowns and the pandemic. Others have learned to eat healthy and exercise. Most of us have probably bounced between emotional eating and TV binges, and periods of smart eating and fitness.

Sue Anderson-Gury, a forklift operator in Maryland, is a longtime runner. She had taken a break from the sport, but just started exercising again when the pandemic hit. Here, Anderson-Gury shares how she handled her renewed love of running and the roadblocks she encountered along the way, including weight loss and weight gain.

For the past 15 years, I’ve been a serious runner, doing marathons and ultra-marathons. But the years of heavy exercise caught up with me and chronic injuries and burnout caused me to take a break from the sport. I was still going to the gym but wasn’t working out nearly as much. And I let my eating go. Gradually, my weight crept up, so I decided at the beginning of 2020 I would start fresh and lose the extra 20 pounds.

After seeing an ad for a free trial, I signed up for Noom, a weight-loss app and service. It helped get me in the habit of logging my food every day and increasing my exercise. I saw fairly quick results, losing five pounds in the first week and then two to three pounds a week after that. I was a few weeks into the program when the pandemic hit and quarantine started in March 2020. [Check out the surprising ways that America’s health has changed during the Covid-19 pandemic.]

Pandemic restrictions helped me reach my goal weight

Quarantine actually helped me stick to my weight loss plan, if only because I had more time to devote to logging my food. And after my gym closed, I discovered how much I love running outdoors. It’s so relaxing and my daily runs became a way to deal with the stress of the pandemic.

I work as a forklift operator at a grocery chain so I worked the whole time. But now with fewer social activities, I could really focus on my nutrition and exercise. While everyone else was worrying about the “quarantine 15,” I was feeling really good about my progress. In May, I hit my goal weight.

Unfortunately, that was short-lived. By June, I was bored with Noom so I stopped using it. I’d also ramped up my running. I felt so good running outdoors at my goal weight that I kept going longer and longer. It wasn’t just that I loved the look of my new leaner body. I also loved how much better it functioned. At 57, I’d discovered that the normal aches and pains of aging feel so much worse when I’m heavier.

You’d think that running more would’ve helped me maintain my weight loss. But logging lots of miles actually causes me to gain weight. I’ve learned from my years as a long-distance runner that once I hit a certain number of miles per week, my hunger intensifies and I start eating more. The more cardio I do, the harder it is to control my diet. [Here’s why exercising too much can make you gain weight.]

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Then the fatigue set in and I dropped my healthy habits

Not to mention that by the fall, pandemic fatigue was setting in, making everything feel harder. I had mostly abandoned my healthy eating habits. I resented the spartan 1,200 daily calories allotted by Noom. And tracking calories felt tedious.

Despite this, I was enjoying rediscovering my love of running—so much so that I did a virtual race across Maryland, running 300-plus miles in seven weeks. I ran 54 miles in the last four days alone. I was thrilled when I finished it and when I got my medal and shirt in the mail I remembered why I loved doing races.

Still, a little voice in the back of my mind reminded me that I was getting sucked back into the kind of running that had burned me out in the first place. I didn’t want to get injured. Plus the scale kept going up. I swore I wouldn’t do any more races but then I did a couple of local virtual races, then the NCR Trail virtual marathon, just to see if I could still do it. (I could!) Then of course I had to run the (virtual) Celtic Solstice 5 miler, a huge Baltimore running community tradition.

By December 2020, I’d gained back all the weight I’d worked so hard to lose. I was more than disappointed in myself—I was uncomfortable. For some, 20 pounds might not seem like a huge deal but it makes a big difference in how I feel. [It’s so important to listen to your body—as one woman shares how she is managing her eating disorder during the pandemic.]

New year, same goal, different mindset

January 2021 found me right back where I’d started before the pandemic—tired, achy, and resolving to lose 20 pounds.

But I don’t see my ride on the pandemic weight rollercoaster as a failure. I see it as a learning experience. This past year has been so difficult in so many ways and I did my best to cope with it. I learned a lot about how my body and mind work together and what type of nutrition and fitness work best for me. For instance, I discovered that sugar is a big trigger for me. Since cutting out added sugars, I feel more control over what I put in my mouth. Quarantine showed me that if I can get past a week or two without sugar, I’m fine.

I also learned my lesson with exercise: Moderation is best. My goal is to run five miles a few times a week and balance it out with walks with my dog and weight lifting. I’ve also added a spiritual component to help me manage the stress better. Each day I pray and do some basic yoga and meditation, which helps me feel better mentally and stay connected to what my body is telling me it needs. [Here’s how wellness experts are coping with stress from the pandemic.]

My last big change to my body from the pandemic will be much harder to see but just as important: antibodies from the Covid-19 vaccine. As a designated essential worker, I should be getting the call any day now to get my shots.

It’s been a crazy year full of ups and downs—and not just with my weight. I’m hoping that with the vaccine things will start to feel more normal soon. And in the meantime, I love my body and will continue to take good care of it so I can enjoy that normalcy when it does happen.

—As told to Charlotte Hilton Andersen

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen has been covering health and fitness for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 13 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She teaches fitness classes in her spare time. She lives in Denver with her husband, four children, and three pets.