COVID-19 weight gain isn’t a myth.

According to Healthline, 61 percent of Americans packed on the pounds in the past year during the pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control found in 2019, 33-percent of Pennsylvania’s population was clinically obese – and that was before the pandemic.

The uptick in home delivered meals has increased in recent years with the hopes of getting clients focused on healthier eating.

Jordan Galasso, owner of FIT AF, said business has picked up during the pandemic with people wanting healthy, prepared meals.

The healthy meal delivery business, based in Carbondale, allows people to place orders online and have them delivered to their home or workplace. The average meal price is $9, and delivery is free. Prices fluctuate depending on how many meals you order.

“It makes it a little more convenient for our customers,” he said. “Many of our clients are focused on eating better, trying to lose weight or increasing their performance at the gym.”

Galasso, who is both a nutrition coach and personal trainer, said the meals can fit a wide variety of diets include paleo and keto.

Meals include chicken parmesan and chicken marsala with a healthier spin. He focuses on wild-caught fish and grass-fed meats. He said the bison chili, sweet potato hash and wild boar ragu are all popular choices.

“There’s definitely a need for it,” he said. “A lot of people spend time in the gym, and they have goals of losing weight and getting their act together with nutrition and they need help. Often, they just don’t know how. It doesn’t taste like cardboard. It’s very hard to produce the variety of the meals at home for the price.”

Galasso started the business several years ago in a kitchen at the Carbondale Technology Transfer Center, a business incubator program to help start-ups. He said he does spend time in the kitchen, but he does have professionals helping with the process.

He said his customer base skews female, but more men have been becoming customers in the past year.

Bryan Fauver, co-owner of Meal Prep Grind, started his meal prep business five years ago. Both Fauver and his business partner, Jay Racavich, decided to get out of the traditional restaurant business where they were working and do something different.

“At the time, I was getting ready for a half-marathon,” said Fauver. “I was looking for healthy meals and there was really nothing like this in the Scranton area and we decided to run with it. And since then it’s been really successful.”

He said in the beginning, he thought the ‘hard core’ fitness crowd was be their biggest customers.

“But over time we began to realize that our customer base were just people who were busy with work, school, children and life,” he said. “Over time, the menu has evolved. It’s delicious, healthy meals that people know and love.”

Chicken parmesan made with zucchini noodles continues to a popular choice as well as pork tacos and teriyaki glazed meatballs.

The menu is updated every week. They deliver on Sunday and Monday all over northeastern Pennsylvania. They also deliver as far away as the Lehigh Valley. He said meals average around $11 and there’s no delivery fee and no subscription. Meals are prepared at a commercial kitchen in Olyphant. Fauver said they prepare about 1,500 meals per week. A trained chef on staff prepares the meals.

“We try our best at healthy versions of meals people really like,” he said, “without all of the bad stuff. No dishes, no clean-up and no shopping.”

Marissa Campanella, a registered dietician and owner of MLC Nutrition in Scranton, believes the emphasis on weight gain during COVID-19 is not about people sitting home and not getting to the gym, but rather an unhealthy way people are looking at food.

“It comes during a time of a lot of unwelcome stress and unwelcome certainty for a lot of people,” she said. “We’ve had to endure a lot of change during the past year and for many people health shifts may have happened as a result of people being asked to work in unsafe conditions or losing a job or increased childcare responsibilities.”

She said these types of issues can be a reason many people gained weight during the pandemic, not because they were sitting home or not being active.

“Those underlying root causes of weight gain are something worth exploring as we shift back to normalcy,” she said.

So, if you’ve gained weight in the past year, where do you start?

“I’d start with some self-reflection,” she said. “What have been the food habits and behaviors that have shifted? Can we approach this from a place of not being urgent in getting the number on the scale down, but rather how do we navigate shifting back to behaviors that were in place before the pandemic began?”

Campanella, who works with clients one-on-one to help with eating disorders and to overcome what she describes as ‘unhealthy food relationships,’ said in addition to analyzing those issues, people must embrace a life change, rather than one fad diet over the other.

“I don’t support one diet in the name of weight loss unless it’s for a medical reason,” she said. “The research shows diets don’t really work. Within two or five years, people typically gain the weight back and often, it’s even more than they previously weighed. It’s not sustainable.”

She said it’s all about balance.

“Cultivating an eating pattern that doesn’t avoid those types of ‘bad’ foods but works to incorporate them to make a person feel good about one’s body is a better approach,” she said. “And that looks different for everybody.”

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