Self, Health And Wellness

It's OK To Stress-Eat & Gain Weight When You're In Coronavirus Lockdown

Photo: Artem Labunsky on Unsplash
It's OK To Stress-Eat & Gain Weight When You're In Coronavirus Lockdown

COVID-19 is making me hungry.

No, that's not a symptom of coronavirus infection. As far as I know, I don't have it. It's just the stress.

I can't stop stress-eating, and I'm sure I'm going to gain weight during my attempts at social distancing and self-quarantine. I assume that our "stay-at-home" order, which requires all Californians to "shelter in place" unless taking care of essential services, could last months.

I also assume I will put on at least five pounds. When I feel anxiety rising inside me, my first instinct is to try to make it go away by eating something comforting.

The threat of a pandemic striking us like it has in Italy, China, and Iran is terrifying. I'm scared for my family, especially my parents, and it's making me want to eat. A lot.

I'm also essentially locked down in my house with my family, isolated from my friends and the people I usually see around town. I can't go to pilates or grab my favorite black bean burger. I can't even walk the track while my son has baseball practice. The school is closed. Everything feels deserted.

Before coronavirus, I spent my mornings working or at baby classes with my little one, and every afternoon shuttling my big kids to activities or appointments. I'm busy from morning to night, like most parents.

Now my kids aren't in school and we've asked our babysitter, who has been with our family for fifteen years, not to come for a while. We are home, alone, all the time; me, a teenager, a tween, and a toddler.

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I believe in the necessity of lockdowns and social distancing, but it's stressful living with such a big change of routine in addition to the justifiable fear of how this disease could affect our nation, particularly the elderly and those who cannot work from home like my husband, who works in in TV news, and those working on the front lines of the medical community and service industries.

No matter your circumstances, I think we can all relate to the stress our nation is under. We can probably all relate to some of the coronavirus jokes and memes floating out there, too.

When a friend shared the quarantine joke below, I laughed. I read it as I was eating a cupcake.

credit: unknown

It shows a woman with a typical Barbie doll-like figure looking into the fridge. It says "March 11th". The next photo is supposed to be the same woman with a curvier, rounder body in the same position on April 3rd. She got bigger.

But the more I thought about this meme, I realized that most people see this as a negative. They don't want to gain weight. I laughed because I relate to having my head in the fridge (though maybe not the sexy outfit and high heels) but I don't think the woman on the right looks bad.

After years of working on my relationship with my body and food. I no longer look at the woman on the right as less attractive. Yes, she's bigger, but she's still sexy. That's because I've done a ton of work to try to de-program myself from the anti-fat bias around me.

Still, I've been feeling bad about how I've been stress-eating during this pandemic, because, deep down, I still buy into the idea that there is only one way to eat "right".

But that feeling, linked with shame and self-blame, is not good for me. I realized that worrying about gaining weight and feeling ashamed of not having what I perceive as "self-control" over my appetite is only making things worse.

Never, in our entire lives — or even in the lives of my parents, who are seventy and eighty years old — has a pandemic like this struck. We've never been asked, as a nation, to self-quarantine. Our schools have never been shut down for months at a time to enforce social distancing and isolation.

None of us know how to survive a pandemic "right".

No matter what we're doing, we probably feel like we're failing. We aren't eating the right foods or the right amount. Our kids are playing too many video games or watching too much YouTube. They're not getting enough exercise or fresh air. They're making messes that we don't have the energy to clean up.

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Here's what I want you to know:

You're not failing. I'm not failing. We are doing our best, even if that best is sloppy, lazy, bleary-eyed, glazed-out, crying, or eating a lot of comfort food.

As long as you're taking care of your and your kids' basic needs, you are doing OK for now.

The shame we put on ourselves for stress eating and making another trip to the fridge only makes things worse.

Remember that even if you gain weight, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Fat is not a bad thing. Being bigger is not a bad thing.

I know that the beauty and diet industries have spent billions of dollars yearly throughout our entire lives trying to convince us that fat can't be beautiful or healthy. But fat is beautiful, just as skinny is. And gaining weight or being fat doesn't necessarily mean you are unhealthy.

Our bodies are good enough. Your body is good enough. Right now you are good enough — and you will be good enough at five or ten or however many pounds more or less than you weigh right now.

This fatphobic society has put a lot of shamey crap on us our whole lives and now is as good a time as any to start working on letting that go. Feed yourself. Take a deep breath. Enjoy your life the best you can, even if it sucks or feels confined right now.

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Before anyone interjects with, "But it's not healthy to eat junk food all day long!" let me say this: Of course it's not! You should strive to eat a balanced diet with as many plant-based sources of nutrition you can manage. Science has proven time and again that this is the healthiest way to eat.

But living through your very first pandemic is probably not the right time to enforce strict rules or start a new heart-healthy diet — unless, of course, your diet is prescribed by your doctor.

And it's certainly not a good time to go on a starvation diet to try to lose weight. In fact, it is pretty much never a good time to starve yourself in order to lose weight.

As time goes on, it may also get harder to eat an ideal diet as your food stash and grocery store shelves grow more sparse (though there's a lot of vegan food left, apparently).

To feel better over all, it is recommended that we exercise every day if possible. Even in lockdown, most cities allow people to take hikes and walks if they keep at least six feet away from others. There are lots of online videos with yoga or weights or jumping jacks or whatever you're into. Doctors also say we should try to sleep at least 8-to-10 hours per night.

These things can help keep our immune systems strong by maintaining overall health. They also help us manage stress levels, which is probably the most important thing right now. But, above all, we need to be graceful and compassionate with ourselves.

The only area that's not negotiable is to regularly wash our hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, keep a safe social distance from others, and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when we can't wash hands adequately. These are three things that are absolutely necessary to help protect ourselves and others during this coronavirus outbreak.

The rest? Let's try to take it easy on ourselves — and others.

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There are going to be people who respond to this stress by losing their appetite. They'll likely come out of this nightmare weighing less. Others will channel their inner macrobiotic domestic goddess (or god) and start baking no-sugar muffins from the fiber left over in their veggie juicer. I love those people. I am not one of them, but I love them.

I also love the people who watch Bravo and eat Chef Boyardee ravioli and Hostess cupcakes.

I love the people will emerge from this hellscape with new fat and new curves and new lumps and bumps and I will love every lump and bump on their bodies and on my own. And I will love the bony butts of my friends who respond differently.

Because we are in this to survive, not to find perfection.

And when I see all of you on the other side of this, I'm not going to care what your body looks like or what you did while you were stuck at home. I'm just going to be glad we're both still around to enjoy the rest of this life together.

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Joanna Schroeder is a feminist writer and media critic whose writing has appeared in The New York Times and on sites like Time, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, BuzzFeed, Babble, Everyday Feminism, Vox, and more. She's also a very busy mother of a toddler, a tween and a teen. Follow Joanna on Twitter for more.