We are living through a pandemic. We’re all fighting to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy and safe from COVID-19, and yet — even with a pandemic severe social injustice, and significant social unrest added to the mix — people seem to still be hyper-focused on their weight, and their weight gain in particular.
There are memes and jokes all over social media about the “quarantine 15” — regarding the weight gain that some people might be experiencing during quarantine. There are articles and Youtube videos all about how to get rid of that lockdown weight, ads promoting intermittent fasting and other “tools” for weight loss. Furthermore, as a writer, my inbox has been bombarded with pitches from publicists providing statistics about quarantine weight gain and pitching stories about how to “shed those pounds.”
But wait… shouldn’t we be focusing on other things right now? Like, I don’t know… trying to not catch or spread a deadly virus?
The Problem With ‘Quarantine 15’ Talk
Celeste Smith LMFT, CEDS, a therapist who specializes in eating disorders, reminds us that all the talk about COVID-19 weight gain is toxic and harmful, and not just for people with eating disorders and body image struggles, but for everyone.
“It reinforces that weight gain is the worst thing that could ever happen to us, when our very lives and the lives of our loved ones are a stake,” Smith says. “This focus sets the expectation that our goal is to keep up an unrelenting ridiculous body standard, even during a pandemic.”
Smith believes all the COVID-19 weight gain talk is distracting us from what we really need right now, which is self-compassion. While it’s certainly not ideal, Smith says it’s understandable as we enter the summer months that people would be experiencing increased thoughts about body image. “You are stressed and times are uncertain. It only makes sense that body image thoughts would be on the rise,” she says.
6 Ways to Deal with Negative Feelings About Your Body
These thoughts are not likely going to go away on their own. You will have to be proactive and put in work in order to build or rebuild healthy self-esteem and confidence.
Below are some therapist-approved tips to help you deal with negative feelings about your body during the quarantine.
1. Use social media in a healthier way
Comparison is a killer when it comes to body image and confidence. Scrolling endlessly through social media, you’ll likely be comparing yourself to those you see in your feed, whether you realize it or not. Smith recommends unfollowing accounts that cause you to compare or body bash. You can also press the “mute” button on their profile, if you just want their content off your feed for now.
You may especially want to do this with celebrity and model accounts, who are likely posting heavily edited photos. Remember, that most of the time, social media is an illusion. Instead, Smith urges you to fill your feed with accounts that will help you have a healthier relationship with your body, accounts that promote: body positivity, fat positivity, and education surrounding body image. In light of current social justice movements, now is also a great time to diversify your feed with accounts that give you more perspective of other experiences, if you haven’t already. Another option is to limit social media use altogether, particularly on days when you’re feeling down.
2. Be kind to yourself
This, of course, is easier said than done. Still, having self-compassion during this time is crucial. Smith suggests, “When you catch yourself tearing your body down, place a loving hand on the part or parts of your body you are bashing and send it some compassion. Say to this part of yourself, ‘May I be kind to you in this difficult time.’” Additionally, you can make a list of things you love about yourself, inside and out, no matter how trivial these things may seem. We get so caught up focusing on the bad that we can forget about the good. Don’t let yourself forget what you love about yourself!
3. Have a healthier relationship with your mirror
One fun and easy way to bring some positivity to the mirrors you often glance at is to use stickers or notes that can help you remember your values and help push your brain toward positive thoughts, rather than to immediately beat yourself up when you look in the mirror. Smith recommends these stickers that say “All bodies are good bodies,” for example. Alternatively, you can put positive sayings like this on Post-Its and stick those on your mirrors, too.
You can also use the mirror as a reminder to use mantras. Smith suggests coming up with a body-acceptance mantra that you can tell yourself when you’re feeling down, or whenever you see your reflection. For example, hers is, “I will live life fully, in my today-body.” You can make your mantra whatever resonates most with you, and you could even put that Post-It on your mirror, too.
4. Meditate with a focus on body image
Meditation is great for stress relief and relaxation, but it can also help you be more aware of the thoughts that flit in and out of your mind — including those negative body-bashing ones. Did you know you can also meditate to focus on specific issues?
Look for guided meditations that focus on self-esteem or body positivity. For example, meditation app Headspace has a 30 day self-esteem meditation course. Insight Timer, another meditation app, also offers a variety of guided meditations focusing on self esteem. Smith specifically recommends Jennifer Rollin’s Body Gratitude Meditation which is available on Insight Timer. Furthermore, you can even search for self-love meditations on YouTube and find many great free options.
5. Challenge the messages you have received about bodies
Smith recommends digging deep and thinking about the messages society, family, or friends may have imposed on you from an early age. For example, if you believe that your stomach has to be smooth and roll-free, can you think back to the first time you received the message that your body “should” be that way? Smith says about folks who are feeling poorly about their body that, “They might remember first believing this at eight years old when they went to the beach with their aunt who pointed out someone else’s stomach and said ‘She has no business wearing that swimsuit!’”
Then, think about a child in your life — your own, a niece or nephew, a friend’s kid — and ask yourself, would you pass this same rule or beauty standard on to that child? “If we apply different rules to ourselves than we do to others, this tells us that the true nature of our values would be kindness and compassion, not harshness and rigidity,” Smith says.
6. Speak with a therapist and/or dietitian
If your body image woes are really taking a toll on your mental health, or if you’ve noticed that you’ve slipped into any unhealthy or disordered eating patterns, you can work with a therapist and determine what the root of your issues could be. It’s sometimes important to get at what’s behind your body image struggles, as challenges with body image sometimes mask other issues, and are often not solely about the body.
Smith says, “This may not mean that you never struggle with body image thoughts again, but it will mean that you will know, for a fact, when you have thoughts like this, it is not about your body.” Working with a dietician can allow you to create healthy meal plans and ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need, without binging, purging, starving yourself, or any combination. Smith particularly endorses therapists and dietitians affiliated with Health at Every Size to get the utmost body-positivity and to avoid fat-phobic providers.
Once you’ve fallen into patterns of negative thoughts or feelings about your body, it can be difficult to change your perspective to a healthy one. Follow these tips, work hard, and with time, you’ll be on track to loving your body — even during this incredibly tumultuous time.