What You Need to Know About Weight Gain During Social Distancing

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Photo by sheri silver on Unsplash

Now is not the time to freak out about your diet. 

Honestly, NO time is the time to freak out about your diet, for most people. 

You might gain weight during social isolation because we’re all stressed out and impulse buying cherries and pie crust (just me? I stress bake). Gaining weight is fine. You will fluctuate to your normal set point after the stressful period. 

Gaining weight is okay.

Stress or comfort eating is okay.

Snacking “mindlessly” is okay.

It’s all okay — this is an unprecedented time, and sometimes the convenience of a frozen dinner you can throw in the oven on Friday after a timey-wimey work from home week is worth the sanity.

We have to take more time between grocery trips, and we can’t go out mid-week to top up on fresh produce. So that means canned food, frozen food, shelf-stable food.

We have to stay fed, but we don’t have to stay low-carb, counting macros, and sticking to a diet when the global stress level is off the charts.

Yes, do what you can to eat a balanced diet and include fruits and vegetables along with whole grains, and the whole healthy eating nine yards. But you have permission to not be on a diet right now (and forever after this is over).

Exercise During Social Distancing

Can’t get to the gym? You’re also not obligated to keep up a strict exercise regimen right now, especially if you’ve been ill or might become ill. The best thing you can do right now is be as healthy – and rested – as possible. 

Take this time to rest your body.

Embrace joyful movement. Do exercise that makes sense and makes you feel good. This could include taking a walk around the block or a short bike ride if you can go outside. You can do some gentle stretches or yoga. Lift weights or do home calisthenics if these are part of your regular routine and you want to continue them. 

But it’s okay if you just rest and recover right now without an exercise regimen. 

Diet Culture Resources

I highly recommend these amazing books to help you break the diet cycle so you don’t hate yourself for quarantine snacks — they might change your life for long after this social distancing period is over! 

The Fuck It Diet by Caroline Dooner

Health At Every Size by Lindo Bacon 

PS. I overcame my eating disorder with the help of the books above, and now I help others overcome boundaries and traumatic triggers in a six week class that reframes the usual negative spiral in your head. Email me to get on the roster for 50% off!

Comfort in my own skin

Losing weight used to be the most important thing in my life. Year after year, it was my resolution each January. And year after year, despite my weight, I still never felt like I had succeeded. If I gained, I had obviously failed. If I maintained, I had not done enough. If I lost, I still had so much further to go.

My highest weight was 300 pounds. I panicked. I felt out of control. I changed my diet and exercise habits and started to lose weight.

My lowest weight was 201 pounds. I panicked. I felt unsafe. I changed my diet and exercise habits and started to gain weight.

While I was elbow deep in an MLM company selling shake mix and workout DVDs, I used to collect and share all sorts of fitness inspiration (“fitspo”) graphics and memes in my coaching groups. Slogans like “Eat like you love your body” and “Don’t let food be the boss of you” and “Strive for progress, not perfection” and “In three months you will thank yourself” were my absolute bread and butter (but, like, gluten free, because gluten is evil).

And I strived for those things. I ate salads and raw veggies and superfood shakes because I wanted to eat like I loved my body. I avoided sugar entirely, even eschewing condiments, because I wanted to eat like I loved my body. I did three day clean eating cleanses and sugar fasts and Whole30 so that I could be the boss of food, instead of letting food be the boss of me. When I slipped up and ate something off-plan, I tried to remember that it was still progress as long as I didn’t gain weight back — a couple bad days on a diet doesn’t mean utter failure and a life in this fat body. I knew that after three grueling months of breaking my bad food habits, I would be on my way to a toned, lean, fit Pinterest body. All of the fitness memes promised that soon, this lifestyle change (not a diet, a lifestyle change) would become an addiction and I would wake up in the morning and all of the little Disney blue birds would come put my moisture wicking skintight pants on me so I could go run a quick 10k before breakfast. Every day. I looked forward to that day.

I would finally love myself, if I could only overcome my lack of self control. If I could eat right, I would finally love my body. If I could exercise enough, I would finally love my body.

One of the graphics saved on my phone says “I am obsessed with becoming a woman comfortable in her own skin.” I was determined to lose enough weight to reach this point. I knew I could become comfortable in my body once I had found the right mix of food and movement to unlock the secret code to making my body get smaller.

I started running. I did 5Ks, and then a 10K, and then a half marathon. The next year, I did another half marathon and signed up for the race that would change my life and make me a true runner. I signed up for a Ragnar relay. Two hundred (ish) miles in two days, sleeping in a van, running on sleep deprivation and cold bagels and the promise of epic satisfaction and pride when I was finished.

But the Ragnar didn’t change me. I felt the same. I questioned if I had done it right. My first leg was partially canceled due to flooding, so I didn’t even run my whole Ragnar. My position had shorter legs, so I questioned the validity and badassness of my Ragnar experience. Did I even do a Ragnar if I wasn’t completely broken by the end of it?

I was still chasing that self love. I was still chasing body satisfaction.

And I thought pain and exhaustion and limitation and control was part of that journey to becoming comfortable in my body.

I started therapy to specifically target my relationship with food just a few weeks ago. On February 1st, my therapist and I identified a target thought process: I am not allowed to eat. I had a very rough night that evening and cried a lot. Processing is hard. But over the weekend and through the next week to my first “reprocessing” appointment (in which we focused on changing the target thought to “I am allowed to eat”), I did a lot of work.

I unfollowed any account on Instagram or Facebook that focused on dieting or thinness. I followed a bunch of real, actual body positive accounts (especially large bodies). I started reading about the anti-diet culture. I pre-ordered “The Fuck It Diet” by Caroline Dooner.

After the reprocessing session, I ate without restriction. And something unexpected happened inside me.

This is going to sound so hokey and silly but I swear, this is what happened.

The space in my mind that previously held all of my rules and need for control had given way to hold contentment and joy instead.

Where I used to ask myself twenty questions to determine how valid a hunger pang was, I now just made something tasty and enjoyed it, then went on with my day.

Where I used to keep a constant inner monologue of comparison to what I had eaten the day before, how fast my dining companion was eating, whether or not I could finish my side of fries without looking like a fatty mc fatty fat, I now just ate what I wanted and went on with my day.

Where I used to look at a large body on Instagram and focus on fat rolls and sagging skin, I now saw what I was after — the look on their faces. The way they held their shoulders back and head up. The way they were comfortable in their bodies… as they were right now. 

Y’all, something snapped inside me.

That is what was missing for me. Contentment with my body isn’t an aspiration. It’s not something that will happen if only I can achieve and limit and drag myself to it. It’s not the reward for suffering. Contentment with my body – becoming a woman comfortable in my own skin – is a right-now thing. Not a someday-maybe thing.

I was obsessed with becoming a woman comfortable in her own skin. And all I had to do to become her was love myself right now.

The shame was so, so heavy. After over two decades of carrying the burden of hating my body, I put it down. And what rushed in to fill the void was love.

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This. is. what. I’m. talking. ABOUT.