Quarantine Made Me Face My Body-Image Triggers Head On
Here's how I learned to control them and some tips on how you can be kinder to yourself, too.
Approximately 68% of women in America are considered plus size, but there’s a clear lack of industry representation and shopping options for this majority. In Plus-Size Diaries, columnist Olivia Muenter dives into all things plus size, from sharing her personal experiences to speaking out about plus-size culture at large.
Trigger warning: This essay discusses eating disorders.
If there’s anything I know for sure about 2020 (and there isn’t much), it’s that everything feels weird. Work feels like a brand new experience. Grocery shopping is suddenly stressful. Family relationships and friendships are more fraught with tension and disagreement than ever. Everything has shifted, and for many of us, that includes how we feel about our bodies. COVID-19 caused many of us to switch up our schedules and, therefore, our routines—including eating and exercise habits. For those with a history of eating disorders or disordered eating, it’s a situation that can not only be stressful but triggering, too.
As a blog post from the Center For Discovery, an eating disorder treatment center, states, the combination of the coronavirus and eating disorders is a “perfect storm” of sorts. And as the author Barbara Spanjers writes, “If an eating disorder could choose its favorite environment, it could do no better than the stay-at-home orders issued in many states to combat the coronavirus. Fear over health? Check. Fear around food? Double-check. Social isolation? Triple-check.” Spanjers notes that all of this combined with an uncertain economy and “international sense of dread” can mean a nightmare for those in recovery.
For me, someone with a history of disordered eating, COVID-19 had every trigger imaginable. It also presented something that I used to crave as a way to secretly monitor how much I exercised and what I ate: an extremely controlled environment. As much as I hated COVID-19, a deep, dark part of me was thrilled at the opportunity to put myself into a regimented schedule that couldn’t be thrown off by spontaneous plans with friends, indulgent vacations, or any of the other usual life distractions. Without even thinking, old thoughts—thoughts I thought I had moved on from as I ditched dieting and hating my body for good—floated through my head. “What if I worked out every day of quarantine? Or didn’t order pizza for the rest of the year?”
Of all the challenges that COVID-19 has presented, being actively conscious of these toxic thoughts has been one of the biggest for me. As the shutdown in my state began, I promised myself that I would work out regularly to manage my anxiety and that I wouldn’t weigh myself. I also said that I would not make rules around food throughout quarantine. Period. These were my ways of pushing against the triggers that COVID-19 brought my way. And though it’s been work, I feel better than ever. Thankfully, I still order pizza, too.
But it’s been nearly five months since all of this started, and the truth is that I do feel strange about my body because it has changed over quarantine. I have more muscle mass because of consistent workouts, and my clothes fit a little differently. And because some of those items feel a little looser, there is part of me that fears I’ll become compulsive about the habits I’ve built over the past few months in a way that eventually has nothing at all to do with mental health and everything to do with chasing thinness. I spent so much of my life obsessively trying to lose weight that it’s still hard not to view things like loose clothing as personal success.
If you’re feeling a little weird about how your body has changed over the past few months or how your wardrobe fits you now, too, there are few things you should know. The first is that it’s important to remember that in any other year of your life (even if this one is the weirdest yet), your body changed, too. Clothes fit differently month to month and year to year. Sure, this year may feel especially strange, but there has never been a year when your body hasn’t changed.
Reframing your thinking this way helps take the pressure off of looking a certain way after quarantine. It isn’t a win or a loss if your clothes fit differently now than they did in March. You didn’t “fail” or “succeed” if you’ve gained or lost weight during quarantine; you just existed. And not only that, but you managed to get through one of the most stressful, scary times most of us have ever known. Even if you feel weird about your body now, it helps to remember that your body helped bring you through this stressful, scary time, too. And, hey, that sounds an awful lot like success to me.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please visit the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) for more information and support, or text “NEDA” to 741-741.