Self-isolation: You don't owe the world weight loss
Unless you’ve been a media ninja avoiding the messages preying on your insecurities during this lockdown (and hats off to you!), you’ve probably heard a thing or two about the harms of weight gain during COVID. Perhaps these messages have made you a little worried. Or perhaps they have worsened anxiety and stress during this pandemic. Honestly it can’t help but feel a little contradictory (okay very contradictory). The messages are stay home and save lives, but make sure you are exercising like mad and avoiding the kitchen- with the latter sometimes sounding louder than the first. It’s almost as if weight gain is a bigger deal than the pandemic itself.
But it’s not. There’s no evidence that weight causes worsened SARS-COV-19 outcomes or even that weight causes the many illnesses that are linked to larger bodies. Any research we have is correlational. This means other factors such as poverty, weight stigma and genetics play a role in poorer health and we have not disentangled them.
However, another health problem is emerging from this pandemic- mental health illness. The fear of the virus, the anxiety of the world changing, the loneliness from isolation, the grief from loved ones dying and the guilt and shame associated with becoming one of those people who let the world down by gaining weight. For many, these weight gain messages are causing more damage to mental health than they are at motivating healthy behaviours during such a highly emotional time.
Some say it is tough love. Science says this tough love does not work. Unkind, hurtful self talk and external messages do not encourage helpful behaviours but rather fuels more unhelpful emotions which in turn triggers unhelpful actions. Cue emotional eating, restriction- binge eating cycles, stress, guilt and shame.
As we start coming out of lockdown, there’s a new anxiety in town- “what is the world going to think of me since I have gained weight” or even, “I am a failure for not using this time to lose weight like the others”. How sad that the joy of being able to start seeing family and friends can be clouded by the fear of being judged for your body. Your body that carried you through an unprecedented time of stress and grief.
Here’s some helpful guides for how to deal with weight thoughts and talk as we emerge back into the world.
Are you concerned about weight gain during COVID?
Know that you do not owe the world any kind of body.
Know that weight changes during this pandemic are a neutral reaction to how you have coped, it is not a sign of failure
Self isolation is for the purpose of slowing the spread of a new virus, not a time to have re-evaluated life and come out a new person. If you have been able to use this time for positive changes, that’s great but not everyone has had the physical or emotional resources for this.
You cannot control your body. Try to redirect your energy to things you can control with a kind approach. For example, providing nourishment to your body, moving your body in a way that supports you.
What to say to a friend if they have gained weight?
Tell them it is nice to see them
Check in that everything is ok
Literally anything other than commenting on their body. It does not matter.
What to say if a friend brings up their weight gain?
Let them know you are friends with them for their personality, sense of humour, kindness (etc), Their weight does not influence your friendship.
Encourage kind self talk and a focus on behaviours they can control to feel better.
Ask them if they are okay, do they need any support coping
If weight continues to be traumatic for them, discuss seeing a non-diet dietitian or therapist to work through body weight ideals and self worth.
What about complimenting weight loss?
Leave it out. It does not matter
Weight loss is not always a positive. You may be complimenting an eating disorder, illness, stress, depression, grief.
Complimenting weight loss says you are a better person now you have lost weight and exacerbates the fear of weight gain and encourages disordered eating.
Check in that everything is okay
How are you coping?
If weight changes are causing stress check out my free e-book to explore more on body ideals and remove unhelpful dieting behaviours.
I offer 1-to-1 non-diet coaching support to support you to move away from dieting and food stress to a peaceful relationship with food and your body. Check out my packages here!