There’s a recent Tiktok trend where users include a photo or video of themselves at the start of the year followed by how they look now. In particular, one caught my eye, as her ‘after’ photo included a clear weight gain. I’m used to ‘after’ images showing the individual far thinner and more toned, intending to be an inspiration for all of our fitness goals. But this was different, even more so as she was proud of her body. And she should be, this is the body that got her through one of the most challenging years we’ve faced. I later saw the video mocked by other users, but to me, this body was a tribute to her survival over this year.
A recent survey by the BBC highlighted that 48% of people had gained weight during the lockdown. On the one hand, this feels surprising as it’s easy to convince ourselves that we’re the only ones struggling and hating our bodies, but on the other hand, it’s something I’ve heard around me more and more. Of this 48%, I guarantee that the majority are struggling to accept their weight gain. I’m one of them. I look down at my body at the largest it has ever been, and I know that I should just be grateful for everything I have, but I can’t.
We’re all sitting at home far more than we ever have before. Even if you worked behind a desk, as I do, you forget the impact of the commute, walking around the office, walking to meetings. But it’s the post-work activities that truly rack up the steps—walking through town to meet a friend for coffee or dinner, strolling past each shop. You may be in a country where gyms are closed; you may not feel like working out. Whatever the regulations you’re currently faced with, it’s a difficult time to live in, and the effect of that is imprinted on our bodies. The skin too pale for our liking reflects a summer spent inside. The weight is all the places we couldn’t go. We were denied so much this year, so can you really blame us for finding solace where we could indoors? Escaping into TV shows and treating ourselves with delicious snacks, we did what we could. We all did.
At the start of COVID, you’d see all those people intent on working out, using this time to get their ‘dream’ body. I sometimes wonder if they succeeded, if they’re sitting home with their rock hard abs and waiting impatiently for a chance to show them. It’s okay if they are, that’s how they coped, that’s how they stayed focus on the way forward. But it’s also okay if that wasn’t how you worked through this time. I tried to go for runs, but sometimes even a walk was a struggle in these dark winter days. So I walked, and I also sat at home. Sometimes we’re not actively living, we’re just being, and that’s part of it.
There are many causes for the lockdown weight inflicting over 48% of us. The increased time indoors and sitting with the closure of gyms or outdoor limitations contributes to it. But then there is also the most basic answer: stress. Stress is a significant cause of weight gain, not only through increased comfort eating but also trouble sleeping and the body’s focus on fight or flight mode. Everyone reacts to stress differently, some of us forget to eat and don’t feel hungry, whilst others comfort eat. I am the biggest comfort eater, as soon as I feel sad, I yearn to stuff my face, just to feel something and cover it all up. I struggled with bulimia, and I think my relationship with food remains so distorted that I still view it as this forbidden and complicated substance that I see as both the root and loss of my happiness. I’ve been eating more, and I don’t doubt that.
Working in an office, you can kind of control what you’ll eat as you bring your own breakfast and lunch. I’d start each day with a green smoothie and Tupperware of oatmeal - honestly, I can’t even believe it myself. But now I’m home, and I have time to cook and the urge to distract myself with it. So some days have oatmeal, but others have vegan pancakes or breakfast burritos. It brings joy to my day, even for a few moments, and that’s worth it. As long as you get fruit and vegetables in your diet, who cares if Nutella and cheese accompany them? There are small joys to be found in our day, so take them where you can and don’t feel guilty for that.
Cooking every night is hard. I feel like I’m desperately searching for what I can make. The walk to the grocery store feels longer and longer, especially when I’m slipping into the darkness of my mind. So sometimes I order food. I start bashing myself for it, feeling guilty about the money spent and calories to be consumed. But then a friend messages me with the same dilemma, and without even thinking, I encourage her to go for it.
You deserve a treat! It’s only once a week. Make things easier for yourself. It’s lockdown time; we need to be kind to ourselves.
Somehow the same advice struggles to be applied to me. So I belittle myself, during these already difficult times, and tell myself that I’m fat, ugly, greedy and lazy. And I believe it, I cry and clench my fatter stomach in front of the mirror. Instead of being kinder to myself, and accepting less, I allow the lockdown to turn me into a bully.
Everywhere you look, there are advertisements and articles on how to lose weight during lockdown or stay in shape. They call it the ‘Quarantine 15’, and 63% of people consider losing weight to be a priority after lockdown. That’s our priority? We’re more focused on losing weight than the opportunity to see friends and family again, go travelling, visit museums or theatres. Why is our weight more important than living our lives? Because that’s what we were taught, because that’s how the world rates our worth.
But what if I don’t want to? What if my goal isn’t to get thinner but to love myself at any size? We need to start working past these fixed ideals for women and remove our self-worth from our weight. You are not your size; your beauty is not your size. Would you rather be loved for your slim waist or your intelligence, your humour and your kindness? Stop reducing yourself to the number on the scale and try to understand that you are so much more than that. You may have gained this weight during the lockdown, but that doesn’t mean you have to lose it before or after lockdown ends. You can stay this weight if you choose to, or you can lose weight, just stop making it about weight.
Try to stay healthy, not for your size but everything else, for the long life you will hopefully lead. Go for walks for your mental health, to get out of the house and give yourself a break. It doesn’t matter how many calories you burn, but instead how many sunrises you watched, how many birds you spotted, how many podcasts you listened to.
Work to love this body because it got you through one hell of a year. It kept you safe and healthy, which is becoming a rarer thing nowadays. This body marks your journey, your survival, and thank it for that. It housed you whilst the world felt like it was ending, it carried you when you struggled to get up, it saved you. This body is not your enemy, it should be your greatest love, for it is the only thing that will be with you for as long as you live.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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