If you’ve gained pandemic weight, you’re not alone. Depending on which poll you go by, Americans packed on anywhere from half a pound every 10 days—nearly 2 pounds a month—to an average of 29 pounds per person since the pandemic started. According to one survey, a whopping 71 million Americans have put on weight during the pandemic.

I’m one of them. As a vegan, I normally don’t have trouble maintaining a healthy weight, because many vegan foods are low in saturated fat and calories and plant foods tend to be high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, so they boost metabolism and you burn more calories. But I ate a lot of junk food during the pandemic. With the abundance of tasty vegan options now available, it wasn’t hard to do.

When the pandemic first started, I took advantage of all the discounts from restaurant delivery services. For a few months, I was “eating out” more often than I was eating at home—even though I never actually left the house. I wanted to support delivery people and vegan-friendly restaurants, which weren’t getting many walk-in customers.

I usually opt for fairly wholesome plant foods that are rich in flavonoids—nutrients that help strengthen your immune system—but eventually I realized how often I was ordering from the vegan-friendly cupcake shop, the bakery that offered vegan chocolate cake and the burger chain that sells generous portions of fries in addition to veggie burgers.

I was also eating copious amounts of yummy sweet plantains, along with tasty vegan wraps, from Florida’s Pollo Tropical chain, although the seven-piece, 450-calorie portion should count as an occasional treat, not a serving of fruit. I also subscribe to a grocery delivery service, so I was treating myself to more of Ben & Jerry’s delicious nondairy flavors, as well as Haagen-Dazs dairy-free ice cream bars.

Things would have been different if I had been eating three healthy vegan meals a day—or even just three vegan meals a day—and not as much junk food, but I overindulged. And like most everyone else, I spent a lot of time in front of the TV. So, I’m not judging anyone who may have gone up a clothing size or two this past year. Considering how convenient it is to have tasty food delivered to your front door and the amount of stress that came with the pandemic, I understand how easy it’s been to gain weight.

But it’s also easy to get back on track by eating wholesome vegan foods, including vegetables, whole grains, legumes and other nutritious plant foods. I’ve lost at least five of my “COVID 15” and I’m on my way back to a size 6. I still enjoy vegan goodies, of course, but I’m not overindulging as much as before. My meals are now made up of more healthful foods than baked goods and frozen desserts

So, if you put on pounds during the pandemic—or well before anyone had even heard of the coronavirus—try eating healthy vegan foods to shed that excess weight. Trust me: It will work.

Just look at Bronson Pinchot, the 61-year-old actor who played Balki on the hit show Perfect Strangers. He lost 60 pounds by eating healthy vegan foods during the pandemic. Now he can fit into the clothes he wore when he was in his 20s!

On average, vegans have a lower BMI, or body mass index, than vegetarians and meat-eaters—at least vegans who don’t eat enough calories per meal to satisfy an elephant, as I did for much of 2020. That’s important, especially considering that the pandemic still isn’t over and that obesity is the second-leading risk factor for death among those who become seriously ill with COVID-19.

Not only can eating nutritious plant foods help you slim down and stay healthy, it will also help spare animals and prevent future pandemics, as vegan foods don’t cause animal-borne diseases. And you can still support delivery people and vegan-friendly restaurants—just share some of your goodies with first responders or other deserving folks!

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