It’s common to lose weight during a viral infection. But some people report weight gain after recovering from COVID-19. Scientists are also researching whether long COVID can cause you to develop diabetes.

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The participants in a 2021 study typically gained about 0.62 kilograms (1.4 pounds) and increased their body mass indexes during the post-COVID-19 lockdown period.

The pandemic also brought new negative terms like “gaining the COVID-19” or “Cobesity” — terms that often reflect the sedentary lifestyles from staying indoors related to lockdowns.

But could the viral infection itself cause weight gain in people with COVID-19? Keep reading to dig deeper into the possible relationship between weight and COVID-19.

Research on the effects of COVID-19 is still emerging, but studies currently point to COVID-19 as a cause of weight loss rather than weight gain.

One 2020 study involving people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 found that the condition may negatively affect body weight and nutritional status. The researchers found the longer a person had COVID-19, the more likely they were to experience weight loss.

A 2021 study found that more than 30% of participants formerly hospitalized with COVID-19 experienced unintentional weight loss of 5% or greater. Of these people, about half were at risk of malnutrition.

The nature of the viral infection may explain why many people report unintentional weight loss. COVID-19 can affect your taste and smell, which can affect food’s appeal. Those with severe COVID-19 cases may experience respiratory distress that keeps them from effectively eating.

A 2021 case report involved a person with polyphagia after having COVID-19. Polyphagia is a condition that causes your appetite to increase, which can lead to overeating.

Researchers think this may be due to the effects of COVID-19 on your nervous system, which could influence appetite.

Researchers in some post-COVID-19 studies have identified a potential link to the onset of diabetes. A research review from 2022 involving more than 40 million participants showed an increased risk of diabetes among people who had COVID-19, especially within the first 3 months after infection.

Type 2 diabetes is a condition that affects your body’s ability to use glucose as energy adequately. A leading risk factor for diabetes is obesity. But current research suggests that the link to diabetes may be due to the effect of the virus on the pancreas rather than to weight gain after COVID-19.

Researchers still don’t know what might be behind this potential link. They need to investigate this topic more before they can draw conclusions.

Long COVID” describes various symptoms you may experience after recovering from an initial COVID-19 infection. Examples of long COVID symptoms include:

These symptoms can last anywhere from 3–18 months after COVID-19 infection. Many people report these symptoms worsen with physical activity. Worsening symptoms add a challenge for those who work to maintain a moderate weight through exercise.

In a 2021 case study about COVID-19 polyphagia and weight gain, researchers offer the following tips for maintaining a balanced diet and exercise routine:

  • Eat a high protein diet that includes lean meats, like fish, skinless chicken, and lean cuts of beef.
  • Consume several small meals throughout the day that are high in fiber and low in fat. An example could be a turkey sandwich made with whole-grain bread and a side of fruits or vegetables.
  • Avoid substances known to increase appetite, such as cannabis or some medications. You may wish to review your medication list with a healthcare professional to identify any potential appetite stimulants.
  • Engage in regular physical exercise, such as walking, swimming, or taking an aerobics class.

If you experience polyphagia after COVID-19, you may wish to talk with a therapist about cognitive behavioral techniques, which may help you manage your appetite.

When to contact a doctor

Talk with a doctor if you have had COVID-19 and experience challenges maintaining a moderate weight, especially if you have challenges managing your appetite.

Was this helpful?

Researchers more often link COVID-19 infection with unintentional weight loss than weight gain. However, there’s a lot we still don’t know about COVID-19 and its long-term effects. Reports suggest that some people experience increased appetite, increased diabetes risk, and reduced physical activity as effects of long COVID.

If you have concerns about how COVID-19 may be affecting your weight, talk with a healthcare professional.