Have you gained the “quarantine 15”? Or maybe it was the “COVID-19”?
It’s the joke, if there are any to be made during a global pandemic, among some local registered dietitians like Kaiser Permanente employee Kerry Martinson, who are handling more clients with unwanted weight gain.
“The joke is, it’s the COVID-19 (pounds) instead of the ‘freshman 15,’ ” she said. “We’re seeing a lot of obesity referrals.”
Clark County residents aren’t alone in tipping the scales. A recent study by Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana surveyed 8,000 adults around the world and found that during lockdowns people have been less active and more stressed, according to The New York Times. They also ate a lot more junk food.
Even dietitians like Martinson are struggling with the stress.
“We’re all experiencing it ourselves. It’s not like we’re immune from it,” Martinson said. “I was like, ‘I better talk to myself about this.’ ”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines obesity in adults as “weight that is higher than what is considered as a healthy weight for a given height” as indicated by Body Mass Index. (The Body Mass Index, however, has been criticized in recent years.) Of course, weight gain isn’t always bad — but it’s a problem when it becomes obesity, which causes a host of health issues including high blood pressure, diabetes, or even death.
Martinson, 58, does medical nutrition therapy and specializes in working with patients with diabetes. She was on leave recently due to a shoulder injury from swing dancing — an activity she loves and has had to stop doing during the pandemic.
The Columbian caught up with Martinson to learn more.
Tell me about yourself.
I grew up in Beaverton, Ore. I went to school at University of California, Berkeley, got my bachelor’s in nutrition and food science. Then I went to graduate school at Oregon State University and got a master’s in nutrition and food science. I did an internship at Oregon Health & Science University in 1989 and graduated in 1990. I’ve worked with Kaiser ever since.
What exactly do you do?
I’m one of the ambulatory dietitians, meaning I don’t work in the hospital, I work in a clinic. We do medical nutrition therapy, which means therapy for any medical condition like diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease or malnutrition, eating disorders, allergies. We see patients who have any sort of medical condition who need a dietary modification. Prior to COVID-19, we were doing physical nutrition-focused exams, where we could assess their nutritional state by measuring muscle and fat storage.
Do you have an area of focus?
I’m specialized in diabetes medication. Some of us have specialties in eating disorders, some of us have specialties (such as) general pediatric. There’s a group of us learning to be specialized for kidney disease. I think what inspired me is, my grandfather had diabetes and kidney disease complications.
How has the pandemic impacted your job?
We went straight to phones. For some conditions like an irritable bowel disease … that’s really hard to do over the phone. At first there was a slump because no one knew what was going on. But people at home during the pandemic had more weight gain, less activity, more COVID eating. It was crazy. Our referrals were pretty high.
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What advice do you give people experiencing weight gain during the pandemic?
First of all, just understand we’re all in the same boat. We empathize — it’s been very hard. No one expected this. But we tell them to take it one step at a time instead of overwhelming themselves by doing something strict. We work on different behavior changes. They’re cooking differently because they can’t shop as much. (We help) them kind of step back and say “You’ll be OK. It doesn’t have to be perfect.”
What are your hopes for the future?
Gosh, I’ve been so in the moment. I don’t know. I hope things can get back to normal in that people can be connected and not have to be so distant. I think it’s going to be interesting in what will happen to jobs — I think this has shaken us up and allowed us to do things differently. As long as we’re safe and I can start swing dancing again.