It didn't take long after stay-at-home orders went into place for memes about gaining the "quarantine 15" or the "COVID 19" to start circulating on social media. What may seem like a harmless joke is actually really painful for people like me who have a history of disordered eating.
I've spent years in and out of therapy and programs to help me learn to accept the natural changes that can happen in my body when I'm feeling stressed, and to slowly grow more comfortable living in a larger body. For me, being fat is just a part of life and not something to be feared during a pandemic, when lives are at stake. Still, this time is challenging for people in recovery, and I'm determined not to let discussions about weight gain derail my health.
Spending so much time alone can be a dangerous thing for people who struggle with disordered eating. When you're alone, it's really easy to hide unhealthy habits, like binging or starving. Our secrets thrive when no one is around. I'm really grateful to be social distancing with my wife, who is well-aware of my food struggles and triggers. Knowing that she is paying attention to whether or not I'm eating helps me stay focused, especially when I'm tempted to skip meals and limit my food consumption after being confronted with other people's concerns about gaining weight. I like to remind myself that one of the best things I can do right now is to nourish my body healthfully.
For me, that includes bringing some fun back to my kitchen. Normally, food can be a bit of a battleground for me. I worry a lot about calories and the nutritional content of my food, but during this time, I'm much more focused on enjoying my time in the kitchen. Without as many time constraints, I've had the chance to explore more complicated recipes and feed myself the way I'd like to — plus, enjoy some baked treats.
Another thing I'm trying to focus on is joyful movement. I genuinely love to exercise — it makes me feel amazing and really helps keep my anxiety at bay. That said, with a lot more free time than usual, I have to be careful that it doesn't become the focus of my day. I limit exercise to no more than 60 to 90 minutes a day, and I also don't put pressure on myself for my workouts to look a certain way: some days, I take a Spin class or do some yoga, and other times I just walk my dogs for a while. The important thing for me is that exercise feels positive and healthy, rather than like a means to an end.
The idea that you could look like me shouldn't be cause for concern, and posting anything that would suggest otherwise is harmful.
Lastly, I'm finding that sometimes, I just need a break from social media. When folks I'm close to have posted about social distancing weight gain, I've tried to gently remind them that it can be painful for those of us in recovery, as well as those who live in larger bodies. When a life-threatening illness is spreading, it's really disheartening for people to suggest that the worst thing that could happen is them emerging from social distancing with a body that looks like mine. That's untrue for a number of reasons, but it's worth noting that I live a happy, joyful life that includes many of the same things that fit people enjoy, including fitness, sex, love, and meaningful jobs and relationships. The idea that you could look like me shouldn't be cause for concern, and posting anything that would suggest otherwise is harmful.
I've committed to keeping taking care of myself mentally above all else during this time. I'm grateful for a healthy body that carries me through life, even if it's not as small as those I see in the media. I've worked hard to overcome negative patterns, and even though I still struggle sometimes, I'm in a much healthier place these days. Living through this time period is challenging enough, and I refuse to let worries about weight gain add to that pain. For one thing, I've come too far to go back now.
If you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has resources available including a 24/7 helpline at 1-800-931-2237 or by texting "NEDA" to 741741.