If you’ve been dieting to lose weight for a period of time, this quarantine/ pandemic/ corona lockdown may be scaring you on a level that other folks – who have not been dieting to lose weight – can’t quite understand. You might be terrified of gaining weight. Because, of course, within the context of Diet Culture, gaining weight is just about the worst thing that could possibly happen to you.
If you’ve been dieting to lose weight, you have most likely been restricting your food intake in one way or another. What Diet Culture doesn’t tell you is: restricting leads to binging, particularly if that restricting is interrupted by life changes. Suddenly eating foods – or amounts of foods -- you were not allowing yourself to eat before can lead to weight gain. For someone hell bent on losing weight, this weight gain is emotionally painful. It can make you feel out of control or that you are somehow “addicted to food.” It might make you feel like you are “obsessed” with food and can’t really think about much else.
Using food as a coping mechanism for dealing with our emotions is incredibly common and even, human. So, even if you were not attempting to restrict or lose weight before all of this madness, you might find yourself eating more than usual, and yes, maybe gaining some weight, during this time.
If you have a tendency toward restriction-based disordered eating but have not dieted for a long time or consider yourself “in recovery,” you might be noticing a strong desire to control your food intake. Again, this is normal for some folks – it’s a way of feeling like you have some control over our current uncontrollable circumstances. And, just as some of us eat to deal with our emotions, some of us can forget to eat in response to strong emotions, such as stress.
Though it is not an official eating disorder just yet, “orthorexia” might be an issue for you as well. Orthorexia is an obsession with the healthy-ness of one’s food and can even lead to fear of food itself. If you struggle with orthorexia, this stressful time may cause that fear and obsession to blossom up or return full throttle. This could lead to restriction, panic, stress-induced physical responses and generally strange thoughts and behaviors around food.
And it might not just be your relationship to food that is difficult for you at this time. Your relationship to exercise, fitness and/or movement might be strained as well. Disconnection from your gym, your workout buddies, your regular fitness routine may be causing a disruption in your life that simply creates more stress. Obsession with getting your workouts in despite our strained circumstances might be an issue for you. If you are prone to over-exercising in response to concerns about the size of your body, over-exercising will likely be a go-to coping mechanism for you in this uncertain time. This is just another way of attempting to remain in control.
Whatever your reaction may be to the circumstances we all find ourselves in at the moment, now is definitely not the time to beat yourself up about your reaction or feel like you are failing in any way. Whatever your response has been, is, or will be, your response is just what your body and mind need at this moment. Be kind to yourself. These are tough times. Unless you’re hurting or endangering other humans, you must do what you need to do to get through.
Be gentle with yourself. Even if you are someone who gave up dieting years ago, has fully embraced body liberation and shuns all Diet Culture, this is an incredibly challenging time in which all the old coping mechanisms will attempt to rear their heads to give you options for survival. Whatever you need to do, do it, but try to be mindful about whether you can do that thing and still maintain your love of yourself and respect for your body. And then, if the answer is no, try to accept that this is just where you are right now and mindfully consider whether you are willing to do something different or not succumb to those behaviors, like restriction or obsessive exercise, that feel safe-hating or disrespectful to your body. Please notice: I did not say, “just stop.” Be mindful. Be willing. Be curious. At this moment, it might not be within your control to stop a body disrespecting or self-hating behavior. That’s okay. It really is. You’ve got time.
Dieting for weight loss and engaging in disordered eating and fitness behaviors due to an obsession with thinness is not healthy. It’s just not. But if that’s where you have been, you are not alone. Everywhere we look in our culture, we are told this is exactly the kind of behavior we should engage in to feel worthy and lovable. So, most of us do this at some point. Some of us never stop. The point is, a global panic like this, can rock your boat no matter where you are on your journey toward Body Liberation.
If you gain weight during this pandemic, you will be okay. If you lose weight during this pandemic (unless you become dangerously underweight), you will be okay. If your disordered thoughts around food or fitness take hold of you for a moment or a long while, you will be okay again eventually. Do not add stress to your body by stressing about what is happening to your body. Give your body permission to do what it needs to do and be what it needs to be to survive this difficult time.
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is an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer; an ACE-Certified Group Fitness Instructor; a certified Yoga Teacher; a Certified Intuitive Eating Professional; and a degree-holding Health, Fitness Specialist. She lives in Frankfort, Michigan and owns Every. Body. Fitness and Yoga Studio.