The extra weight of COVID-19
The pandemic has changed us inside and out. Our eating habits, exercise habits, sleep, and stress management have needed to adjust, and as a result, our bodies have changed. Today data tells us that, one of the side effects is that many have gained weight.
As we adjust to our changing environment as the pandemic fades, it’s important to remember how much our lives have been altered in the last year. Change is hard and nothing about transitioning back to whatever the new normal is will be easy. This applies to our bodies. It will take an effort to get it back to shape. If last year has taught us anything it’s that we can do really hard things and even if we don’t like change, were highly adaptable.
The toll of weight stigma
Weight gain is about so much more than a number on the scale. As psychologists, we should help patients realize that weight gain is a normal reaction to an abnormal circumstance. So many of our coping strategies have been unavailable to us this year. It’s not necessarily and only a character flaw. Weight stigma is an added stressor during an already stressful time.
Still, weight stigma runs deep. There are so many memes and jokes about COVID weight gain, and that shows a real insensitivity to the eating behavior challenges people are dealing with. It also puts pressure on people to emerge from the pandemic with an ideal body shape
Anxiety Is Normal
As you venture out for the first time in a year, you may have anxiety. Quarantine has allowed us all to avoid in-person social situations. It has enabled those with body image concerns to conveniently avoid and feel temporary relief from in-person contact.
Many of us have not even been seen from the neck down by anyone other than immediate family over the past year. Opening back up means the return to in-person activities, which can aggravate a person’s underlying insecurity, reignite problematic behaviors, or lead to increased anxiety and insecurity in the aftermath of weight gain. Accept that this anxiety is to be expected and talk about it and plan for it.
What to Do Instead of Dieting
First it’s important to normalize pandemic weight changes as a legitimate experience, help people cope with the distress of stigma, and work with them to lessen self-blame and self-recrimination.
Practice self-compassion. Acts of kindness and self-compassion can improve our mental well-being. Practice speaking kindly to yourself and appreciating your body for getting you through this tough year. Beating yourself up for gaining weight serves no purpose. It will not help you lose weight, and it will not make you feel better. When we engage in self-criticism it increases our emotional distress
- Start with modest goals.
- Focus on Eating Regularly Without Restriction
- Establish new routines.
- Create an environment for success.
- Track yourself. “The more people self-monitor their behaviors, the more weight they lose over time.”
- Make it a family affair.