By Natalie Scott, Dietitian, Be Mindful Nutrition
Worried about gaining weight during COVID-19 isolation?
Feeling increased pressure to lose weight during this time?
Or noticing bad body image thoughts about a changing body pop up for you?
I hear you – and you are DEFINITELY not alone!
I hope that this article will equip you with some ways to help reduce these concerns and help you cope during this already difficult time.
One of the main concerns that I am hearing from friends, family and clients is that their bodies are going to change during this time of self-isolation or quarantine. This might be that they are going to gain weight, or lose weight, or lose muscle mass.
And I want you to know that this is a completely valid concern. Especially as a lot of us have been brought up learning to loathe our bodies and feeling the need to change them. Our culture values “perfection” when it comes to bodies and appearance and so please forgive yourself if you are struggling right now with bad body image thoughts.
With most of us spending an increased amount of time at home and having our regular routines interrupted, there can be the tendency to put more pressure on ourselves to eat a certain way or do more exercise. This can come from a place of anxiety about all of the uncertainty in the world around us and wanting something within our control. So we turn to focus on our bodies, or “self-improvement.” The diet industry plays right into this fear and anxiety by trying to sell us the perfect “diet” to reduce our risk of COVID-19 or “prevent weight gain during isolation”.
It’s shocking really!
All of this increased diet talk, worry and concern around food and our bodies can be particularly challenging for those with a history of dieting, disordered eating, an eating disorder, and/or pre-existing body image concerns.
So with this in mind, I thought it might be helpful to share some tips to help manage food and body image struggles right now:
1. Clean up your social media feed – to foster a better body image
If you spend a lot of time on social media, you might be interested to learn that research shows a link between social media use and greater body image concerns and disordered eating. This is particularly true if you are consuming a lot of image-based content such as Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat.
These platforms encourage us to make comparisons between our bodies and the images we are looking at.
So it could be helpful to try unfollowing anyone that:
- Makes you feel less than ok about your body and food choices
- Promotes an unrealistic idea of what it means to be healthy
- Is shaming you for putting on weight or a changing body
And why not try following accounts which promote or showcase:
- A diverse range of body shapes, sizes, skin colours, physical abilities etc (this can help to normalize the fact that bodies are unique and help you move away from mainstream media’s idea of what our bodies “should” look like).
- Body positive and fat positive content
- Non-diet or intuitive eating content
Examples include (on Instagram):
- @be_mindful_nutrition (that’s me!)
2. Ditch the bathroom scales – weight does not equal worth
Ask yourself – How many times have you stepped on the scale only to see a number which has upset you, or made you feel less worthy?
Did this result in you taking better care of yourself? Or the exact opposite?
Remember that your worth has absolutely nothing to do with your weight. I know this can be a difficult concept to grasp, particularly if you have struggled with dieting and a poor body image for some time.
Unless it is medically necessary (i.e you are trying to restore weight with an eating disorder), for those of us that struggle with food and body concerns, focusing on a number on the scale does more harm than good. It takes our attention away from behaviours that we can engage in to feel good and actually improve our health and wellbeing.
3. Set up boundaries with the people you are isolated with
It might be your partner who makes comments about how much you are eating. Or it might be your housemate commenting on how “good” you are for eating X___ food. Sometimes these comments can be triggering when you are trying to foster a positive relationship with food or your body.
You might just like to gently explain to them you are working hard to improve your relationship with food and your body and that you would appreciate it if they didn’t comment on your food choices etc.
Remember you might need to ask them more than once as this could be something that they are struggling with too and a difficult habit to break.
4. Remember that there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” food.
Unless the food you are eating has gone mouldy or you stole it from your neighbour, there is no such thing as “bad” food. We are constantly bombarded with messages about the “right” foods to eat and the “wrong” foods that we should avoid if we want to be healthy. So understandably, trying to shift this “black and white” mindset can be very difficult.
Instead of thinking about foods as “good” and “bad”, why not try to think of food in terms of the food’s characteristics such as the taste, texture, temperature, colour, shape?
When eating, notice how the food feels in your mouth or your body afterwards. For example, is the food soft or crunchy, sweet or savoury, hot or cold? Does it make you feel comforted, satisfied or energetic during and after you are eating it?
No matter the food, this can create more connection and trust in your body and encourage a more positive relationship with food. Not to mention, take the morality out of eating.
5. Find exercise or movement that makes you feel good
Moving our bodies can have so many benefits, not only for our physical health but for our mental health too! Movement is not meant to be gruelling and punishment for what we ate or what we want to eat. With gyms, group classes and activities cancelled at this time, it may be a challenge to find ways to move that you enjoy. But there is plenty of online content that you can check out and do from the comfort of your own home. Just be mindful that a lot of the online content can be very “diet” focused with talk about burning calories and losing weight – so I’ve listed some below that are non-diet and body-positive to help get you started:
– Yoga Space Perth is offering live online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic
– Sarah Harry Yoga offers online classes and packages
– Plyojam online dance workout on Youtube
– Diverse Personal Training offers online videos on Youtube
Also, just getting out for a walk, run or a bike ride to move your body and get some fresh air can do wonders for the mind, body and soul!
6. Need more information or help?
I hope that you have found some helpful ideas to help reduce the anxiety around food and your body during this already challenging time! Because the last thing we need right now is to feel worse about our bodies and the way that we are taking care of them.
Remember, you are doing the best that you can!
If you feel like you might need some more support in repairing your relationship to food and your body or recovering from dieting, disordered eating or an eating disorder, I would be happy to help. I normally see clients one-on-one in my practice in Perth, but currently am offering online services.