Why you shouldn't be fretting about the 'quarantine fifteen'.
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Let’s do a quick survey: Hands up if you’ve seen that meme of the thin Barbie and the fat Barbie with the caption ‘Me before quarantine, me after quarantine’. Hands up if you’ve seen someone joking that they’re ‘social distancing from their fridge’. Hands up if you’ve heard people worrying about the ‘quarantine fifteen’, otherwise known as the weight they might gain while self-isolating at home. Hands up if that has made you worry about the ‘quarantine fifteen’.
We don’t need to say it again, but what’s happening in the world right now is far from normal. Our regular lives have been disrupted in ways we could never have predicted. We’re all experiencing a full symphony of emotion every day, and this can include worrying either consciously or subconsciously about our bodies, and how this crisis might affect the way we look.
A little voice in the back of our minds is peppering us with constant questions: Am I exercising enough now that the gym is closed? Should I be watching what I eat? Am I going to come out of quarantine a ‘hunk’ or a ‘chunk’, as one meme so succinctly puts it? Add in the fact that we’re dealing with our grown-out hair or stressed-out skin and probably haven’t seen ourselves looking our very best in months, and you have all the ingredients for a mean body image crisis.
“I think it’s really important to acknowledge that being out of our routine like this is very difficult,” says Fiona Flynn of Bodywhys, the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland. “Our exercise and food choices may be different, we may be finding it difficult to get time to ourselves, and all these changes can have an impact on body image. It’s important to allow ourselves to feel whatever emotions come up at this time, not push them away.”
So if you’re feeling crappy about how you look right now, that’s only natural. It’s also natural that in this time of instability, you’d focus on things you can control, which for many people means food and exercise. While you might feel the need to establish a routine or plan to see yourself through quarantine, why not learn to listen to your body instead? It will tell you what it really needs, whether that’s to run 5k or curl up in front of Netflix.
Setting mad targets for yourself will only give you a major case of the guilts down the line, so don’t force it. None of us know what life is going to be like next week, let alone next year, How could we be expected to stick to a regimented routine? Let it be flexible, and be gentle with yourself.
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“Try not to be too hard on yourself if you can’t stick to your usual routine or don’t feel like exercising. These are stressful times and focusing on what will make us feel good and bring us comfort is more important,” says Fiona. “Make it a habit to ‘check in’ with yourself and ask, ‘What do I need right now?’ Maybe you need a rest – to sit down with a cup of tea, or talk to a friend, to take a hot shower – or maybe you need to get out for a walk and some fresh air. Start to respond to what your body needs. Treat yourself and your body with kindness and focus on what makes you feel good.” This applies to how we talk about our bodies right now, too. Sharing jokes about weight gain in quarantine might make you feel better in the moment, but let’s stop for a second to read between the lines.
Is putting on a few pounds the worst thing that can happen to you during an actual pandemic? Nope, not by a long shot. If you look more like the fat Barbie from the meme, does that make you lazy, unattractive, and deserving of mockery? Double nope.
We can support each other without leaning into fatphobia. Even if the person you’re talking about is your imaginary ‘future self’, it’s still hurtful, and sends out the harmful message that gaining weight is something to be avoided at any cost. Let’s demand better from ourselves and each other, because we deserve to be happy in our bodies, no matter what size we are.
“It’s important to be conscious of how content online is affecting us, and to make changes to support ourselves in a positive way,” says Fiona. Be more mindful of what you’re consuming – how does it make you feel? If the answer is ‘bad’, you might choose to unfollow or mute as you see fit. Yep, even if it’s the gals’ group chat. Sometimes, your mental health is more important than Aoife’s step count updates. Actually, we’d say that your mental health is always more important than that.
“Make your time online purposeful,” Fiona advises. “You could take practical steps such as limiting your time on certain sites, or using settings that remind you to put down your phone. Some people find following body positive content helpful, so you could try this too and see what you think.”
You have the power to make social media a positive place for you to be – god knows we spend enough time on it, both in the Before Times and especially now that we’re staying at home. You wouldn’t hang out with someone who was constantly making you feel bad (we hope), so don’t do it on Instagram, either. Follow people who enrich your life and your feed, and lose those who don’t. And while you’re at it, avoid the temptation to compare your ‘lockdown experience’ to everyone else’s. You can only do what’s right for you.
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“Social media might give us the impression that we should be really motivated and achieving new things during this time at home. I think that’s unrealistic,” Fiona points out. “Yes, if you feel like trying new things, go ahead, but make sure that it’s something you enjoy and genuinely want to do, rather than something that you feel you should do. It’s about learning to tune in to ourselves and our bodies and give ourselves what we need. What would you do and how would you treat yourself if you were a true friend to yourself?”
Now more than ever, we need to be true friends to ourselves. If you’ve gained some weight over the last few months, so what? You’ve been doing something very important, which is staying safe for yourself and your loved ones. You don’t need to castigate yourself for that. Take pleasure in your food, move your body in a way that you enjoy as often as you want, and give yourself a break. You’ll be glad you did.
For more information and support, see bodywhys.ie