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Dealing with body changes during Covid-19

Reading time: 6-8 minutes

This page touches on disordered eating behaviours.

We don’t think anyone could have predicted what 2020 was going to look like - a global pandemic probably wasn’t what we had in mind when entering the new year! During an abnormal event like Covid-19, it’s only natural for our lifestyles to change.

Feelings like anxiety, grief, guilt and uncertainty have probably affected most of us at some point during lockdown. In response to all of the huge changes, it’s completely normal for our eating and exercise habits to have shifted too. You may have noticed some changes to your body – perhaps you’ve gained or lost weight, or maybe you’ve experienced some muscle loss.

Whether your body looks a little different now or it’s stayed the same, it can be easy to feel pressured to look a certain way. However you feel about your body, try to remember that weight changes are never anything to be ashamed of – in fact, they’re a natural response to what has been a very chaotic situation!

What can it feel like?

There are many things that may have influenced how you’ve eaten or moved your body over the past year or so. Trips to the supermarket may have become far less frequent, meaning that you’re not eating the same foods as you were before. A lot of us have found ourselves snacking out of boredom, stress, anxiety or sadness, or spending more time indoors and less time exercising. Then there’s the lockdown baking, which has filled up many of our hours at home!

On top of this, you might have noticed an overarching opinion that Covid weight gain is ‘bad’ and that we should use this time to ‘get fit’ or focus on achieving a ‘summer body’. The wave of new home-workout videos and insensitive social media posts demonising lockdown weight gain probably hasn’t helped with any negative feelings towards your body image. You might be experiencing:

  • Low confidence and self-esteem
  • Disappointment in yourself
  • Guilt for not exercising or eating healthily
  • Helplessness – wanting to change your eating/exercise habits but not feeling able to
  • Fear of being judged when people see you again
  • Embarrassment or shame

If you find yourself obsessing over calorie-counting or exercise, or you’re engaging in behaviours like restricting your food intake, overeating to the point of feeling sick, or exercising to compensate for what you’ve eaten, you may have an eating disorder. 

What might help?

If you’re weight or shape has changed throughout the pandemic, you’re not alone. You might find it helpful to try out some of our tips below if you’re feeling low about your body.

Try not to feel guilty for eating or exercising differently. Dealing with a global pandemic (and all of its consequences) is probably not something you had any experience with prior to 2020. The way that you’ve eaten or moved over the past year is simply a reflection of your growth during this time – a way of coping with the difficult feelings and stresses that may have arisen for you. You got through the last year, and you can be proud of that!

Challenge negative feelings about your body. When you notice criticising thoughts about the way you look, ask yourself questions like “Why am I so ashamed of my weight/shape changing?”, “Is the reason I feel bad in my own body down to unfair societal norms?” or “Does my weight/shape reflect who I am as a person?”. You might find that the root cause of your poor body image is society’s expectations of what you ‘should’ look like. In reality, your body does not define you as a person – it makes you unique!

You can also look at your friends or family members and ask yourself which parts of them you like the most. Chances are, being super fit and healthy isn’t one of them!

Curate your social media feeds. We’ve all been there – scrolling mindlessly through Instagram or Facebook and seeing photos of people who don’t make us feel great about ourselves. Remember that (to a certain extent) you’re in control of what you see on your feeds. Have a social media cleanse by unfollowing or muting accounts that don’t make you feel good. You might find it helpful to follow people who have a similar body type to you, or who promote body acceptance.

Nourish your body. Try eating intuitively, which involves nourishing your body with healthy foods AND eating a doughnut because you’re really craving it. Move your body in ways that you enjoy, which could be going for a walk, stretching or doing some seated exercises. This looks different for everybody!

Listen to what makes you feel good. Feeling bad for not eating your 5-a-day or exercising daily isn’t helpful for your mental health, so instead focus on what feels good to you. If you find that consistently eating pizza for days on end is having a negative impact on your mental health, it might be time to introduce some more balanced meals into your diet. Likewise, if eating salad every day is making you miserable, perhaps try to be a bit more flexible!

Respond to people who demonise quarantine weight gain. Fatphobic comments about weight gain can be extremely harmful. Not only are they insulting to fat people, they can also be a huge trigger for anyone with an eating disorder and enforce the idea that all bodies should look a certain way. Unfortunately, fatphobia is so ingrained in our society that most people don’t realise when they’re stigmatising certain body weights or shapes.

If someone you know talks negatively or ‘jokingly’ about quarantine weight gain, whether it’s a general comment or it’s aimed at someone else (even themselves), you might want to say something if you feel comfortable doing so. Below are a few responses that you could use:

  • “Is weight gain really the worst thing to come out of the pandemic?”
  • “It’s been a tough year for all of us. Our bodies are allowed to change.”
  • “I’m trying not to view my body negatively at the moment.”
  • “Hey! Let’s not stigmatise fat bodies 😊”
  • “I don’t feel comfortable talking about this topic.”

Where to go for more support

If negative thoughts about your body image are getting too much, some other things might help:

Follow some body positive Instagram accounts, like Bodyposipanda, Mama Cax, Jessica Megan, Jessamyn, boy, Ruby Allegra, Anti Diet Riot Club and Kenny Ethan Jones (there are obviously a lot more out there, so do some searching!). Filling your feed with people who look like you or promote body acceptance can really help if you’re someone who compares yourself to others.

Watch BBC Three’s YouTube video of strangers criticising each other like they criticise themselves. It’s really moving and may help you realise how hard you’re being on yourself!

BEAT has a page about eating disorders and coronavirus, including information about body image and social media, and coping with change and anxiety. They also have a great blog post about managing guilt during the pandemic. If you’re concerned about your eating or exercising behaviours or think that you might have an eating disorder, you can also call one of their helplines.

Mind has a page dedicated to coronavirus and your general wellbeing, including tips on looking after your mental health. It’s worth a read if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the current situation and it’s feeding into negative thoughts about your body.

Seek support from 42nd We provide a number of face-to-face services too, all of which offer something slightly different depending on what you want to get out of the support. You can read about our services here. If you want to chat with one of our workers online via text, you can register for ongoing online support via our online support portal. We also hold weekly drop-in sessions so that you can speak to a worker without an appointment. Overall, though, every service provides you with someone who will listen, acknowledge your feelings, and work with you to develop your self-esteem. 

By: Ruby Guyler 

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