I toyed around with an intense yet witty approach to the beginning of this article, you know, in typical Everygirl fashion. However, I really must get into the meat of the story right away.
Shut the f*ck up about gaining weight right now, people.
I’ve struggled with body confidence issues my entire life, and these issues are most definitely exacerbated by stress, anxiety, and depression—all things that many of us are dealing with right now. So when I first began self-isolating, I was upset, but I simultaneously saw it as a time to step back, relax, and work on myself. I’d work out at home, save a ton of money, eat meals I cooked instead of my usual go-to takeout favorites, and talk to my friends often. It took just a few weeks for all of that to basically crumble down, as I relapsed into depression and, ultimately, my eating disorder.
And it wasn’t all about how I felt, but what I was seeing everywhere. The social messaging we see everywhere about how to “keep up your body at home” and “don’t gain quarantine pounds” and “here’s Barbie before and after isolation” probably had a little something to do with it. Google “quarantine weight gain,” and you’re inundated with advice on how to “avoid the quarantine 15” (a real headline I saw a few times) and what diets to try if you’re worried about losing weight. You know, all while people are sick and dying and we’re staying at home to stop the spread. As if the way our bodies are cosmetically affected by a pandemic is the biggest of our worries.
Google “quarantine weight gain,” and you’re inundated with advice on how to “avoid the quarantine 15”. You know, all while people are sick and dying and we’re staying at home to stop the spread. As if the way our bodies are cosmetically affected by a pandemic is the biggest of our worries.
“It’s natural for those who struggle with weight fluctuations to be triggered by talks of overeating from all sources. [It’s] virtual now, but it’s similar to meeting with friends for lunch and being triggered there as well,” said Natalie Buchwald, LMHC, Founder and Clinical Director of Manhattan Mental Health Counseling. Having a past of disordered eating in any way can make adjusting to our current circumstances difficult; add in the impact of memes, jokes, and unsolicited advice galore, and it’s a recipe for discomfort.
You probably expect me to gush into a poetic, inspirational song about how I love myself and I’m focusing on my mental health—yada, yada. And a confident version of myself would be delighted to tell people to say screw it to society and don our weight gain with pride that we made it through this hard time. I wish I could say those things with conviction, but I’m admittedly feeling the immense guilt and fear over how my body is changing while I’m staying at home.
I turn down almost all invitations to FaceTime or happy hour over Zoom. Recently, I realized I don’t know if I really want to go back to work or to see my friends ever again. Because while they’re spending every day working out and eating normal, I’m laying in bed, breaking out in stress acne (no matter how many masks and peels I freaking do), and eating tortilla chips by the pound. While I’m depressed, my friends are getting better looking, and I’m getting fatter and uglier. I feel like a failure because I somehow can’t even do a damn quarantine right. And I know, I know, my friends don’t care what I look like and who cares what’s happening with other people. But it’s not really about them; it’s about the shame and guilt I feel toward gaining weight—and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel that way before all of this even began too.
The pretty Instagram pictures and funny memes don’t paint the full picture either. Everyone handles stress and anxiety differently, and if you’re able to spend your time in isolation getting friggin jacked and baking paleo this, keto that, that’s awesome. But we’re doing ourselves a major disservice by focusing on how our bodies are changing instead of what’s happening to our minds.
We’re doing ourselves a major disservice by focusing on how our bodies are changing instead of what’s happening to our minds.
Diet culture, the idea that we put more value in losing weight than real health and associate thinness with happiness, is a pretty prominent player in this game. While people are feeling like garbage (hello, it’s me), we associate gaining weight with what’s making us depressed and anxious, not the other way around. And there are a lot more factors at play than we think. According to an article in Psychology Today, writer Dr. Paula Freedman, Psy.D, explained that during this time of immense uncertainty, people are seeking control in whatever ways they get, and gaining weight often seems like something we can control. But it’s not always so simple for people, as I could eat the same thing every day and still gain a few pounds because my body isn’t handling the stress well (and I’m sure I’m not the only one).
The correlation between our bodies and our minds is quite strong. While I’m depressed, my body is responding accordingly. I can’t blame myself for becoming depressed during a pandemic (I mean duh), and I sure as hell can’t vilify gaining a pound or 10 (or more!!) because I’m struggling during a crisis. I might not feel the most confident right now (here’s an article from a time I felt amazing—I promise I do have some life insights to share), but I can say that I recognize the weight-gain pressure many of us are feeling right now, and I’m sick of feeding into it.
Instead, I’m forcing myself to shift my focus elsewhere, eliminating those toxic weight-gain/diet mentality thoughts as much as possible. I’m focusing on ways I can feel better, whether that’s swapping my chips for carrots with hummus during the day, going for a walk, or texting a friend (any of my friends reading this, I haven’t started this one just yet). And I’m saying good-freaking-bye to things that inhabit me to think poorly about my weight and health right now, like calorie-counting and uncomfortable, ill-fitting clothes. “Try using this time to take off the Fitbit, delete the food logging apps, and hide (or better yet, smash) the scale,” Dr. Freedman said in Psychology Today.
Buchwald recommended “expanding your menu of comfort items without restricting food intake.” Taking a warm bath, a long walk outside, talking to friends, and listening to music were a few of her suggestions to comfort us without any dieting, binge-eating, or over-exercising. She also suggested pointing your focus right now from weight-gain and body-image to learning a new skill. Knitting, crafting, painting, learning a new instrument, playing a sport, juggling (a current fave of mine), becoming the next Calvin Harris and learning to DJ—you’ve got options here. Spend time learning the skill, and whenever you feel anxious, put your energy and time back into learning. “Seeing yourself progress will boost your confidence while being in the present in the flow of the practice will likely be a pleasurable experience, giving your worry a break,” Buchwald said.
Everyone is struggling right now, but that doesn’t make what anyone is going through less important than anyone else. If you’re able to, reach out to a friend, family member, or medical professional or provider for guidance. “If you are in recovery from an eating disorder and fear relapse, now is the time to reach out for help and use new and learned tools,” Buchwald said.
We can make all the jokes we want about our quarantine bods, but so what. If the worst that comes out of a pandemic for me is buying a larger pair of jeans, then I’ve hit the jackpot. I’d rather spend time reading good books, learning to sew, and masturbating a lot! When it feels difficult to nourish my body, I know I can focus on nourishing my mind instead.