COVID Weight Gain & What It Really Means
I’d venture a guess that I am not alone in feeling awfully tired of the fear mongering headlines related to COVID weight gain.
And I’m also not alone in saying that, given what this past year has cost us, some extra weight really shouldn’t be the biggest worry on our minds. But as more people are getting vaccinated and the conversation is shifting to how life will begin to open up over the next several months, the panic around these body changes seems to be mounting.
To be clear, I am not telling anyone how to feel or not feel about their bodies. That is the last thing I am interested in doing! Everyone is entitled to have feelings about their ever-changing bodies. And given our culture’s intense preoccupation with and demand for thinness, it makes sense that if the scale has ticked up, you’d be feeling some angst.
But here’s what I am saying…
Superficial conversations about our size erase what those weight changes truly represent. And this is the heart of what body image work is all about. It’s not about loving the way you look. It’s about unpacking what we mean when we complain about our thighs or our stomachs or whatever body part is distressing us.
My inspiration for writing about this actually stems from a conversation I was having with a group of eating disorder colleagues. We meet together each month for clinical supervision and we were sharing some of our observations related to this topic.
My colleague and mentor, Lisa Pearl, spoke about how she wished we could remember that weight gain, in times of stress, has evolutionary roots to aid our survival. Because our culture almost always frames weight gain as a bad thing, it’s important to appreciate all of the amazing and vital ways our bodies fight to protect us. And yes, that includes weight gain during times of intense stress.
Additionally, you may want to consider reflecting on any body changes you’ve experienced as holding and representing what you have endured this past year – a year that has brought profound overwhelm and unwelcome change. This might include:
- Being asked to work in unsafe or unsupportive conditions
- Caring for children while managing a full-time job
- Losing employment
- Experiencing profound loneliness, disconnection, and lack of structure
- Difficulty accessing coping mechanisms and hobbies that help you feel well
- An inability to access greater support or treatment
- Uncertainty with your health or the health of someone you love
- Untimely death(s) of someone you love
- For my BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ friends and colleagues – living in a culture and within systems that are unsafe and stigmatizing
My hope is that if and when we have these conversations with one another, we can find ways to describe with greater accuracy and depth what these body changes are actually about. We can move from, “Ugh, my jeans don’t fit, I’m so gross, I need to stop eating (fill in the blank)…” to “It really makes sense that I’ve gained some weight this past year. I have never had to manage this much stress and uncertainty in my life and I’m trying to renegotiate how to take care of myself. It’s been really hard.”
If you have experienced body weight changes over the past year, it is not a moral failing. Weight fluctuations amidst enduring stress is completely normal. Your weight has nothing to do with your value as a person. I hope you have people in your life who do not care about your jeans size but care deeply about how you are actually doing. I hope the coming months bring each of us greater connection, hope, and ease.