Lose the shame, not the weight gain.
Last week, I opened up my email inbox to see a message from the hair salon I frequented in The Before Times.
My stylist, a ray of sunshine and a true artist, wanted to let patrons know that the salon (rightfully so) wouldn’t be reopening anytime soon.
“And just to acknowledge the elephant in the room,” he joked, “I’ve gained a lot of weight! I’m huge now!” He then signed off with a comment about “quarantine 15,” referring to the weight gain many people are experiencing during self-isolation in this pandemic.
And I really felt for him.
He had revealed to me months prior that, just like me, he had grappled with body image issues and disordered eating for a long time. And it was clear from his email that a lot of difficult stuff was coming up for him during lockdown.
If you, like my beloved hairdresser, are feeling shame around gaining weight during lockdown, I want to both normalize this (a lot of us are struggling!) and challenge it.
Whether it’s a “quarantine 15” or a “quarantine 50,” your body is doing a very natural thing. And here’s a concept: Maybe you should let it.
Confused? Let me explain. Here are seven reasons why you don’t necessarily need to lose your “quarantine 15.”
Numerous studies have indicated that dieting, especially chronic dieting, is a strong precursor for disordered eating and diagnosable eating disorders.
And depending on how you go about it? Rapid intentional weight loss has been linked to numerous health issues, including nutritional deficiencies, slowed metabolic rate, muscle loss, and dehydration.
Your desire to “shed” those 15 (or however many) pounds could actually do some serious damage to your mind and body. When we become fixated exclusively on weight loss, rarely do we get the improved health we hoped to achieve in the first place.
Ask yourself: When did I decide that dieting was healthy by default? Where did I learn this, and what led me to believe it? Is it possible that others — like the weight loss industry — have more to gain from dieting than I personally do?
We still have yet to find a long-term study that proves the effectiveness of dieting over time.
And what we do have indicates that even if you managed to lose that weight, it’s unlikely that you’ll keep it off.
In fact, frequent dieting is linked to weight gain in the long term. Yet a fear of fatness and a fear of illness drive so many of us to repeatedly try something that just doesn’t work.
Ask yourself: Has intentional weight loss worked for me in the past? If so, for how long? Is it possible that it isn’t an issue of my willpower but rather my body’s natural response to prolonged hunger?
Another phrase for weight cycling is “yo-yo dieting,” meaning the fluctuations in body size that so often accompany chronic dieting.
Fun fact: Many of the adverse effects that earlier researchers claimed came from “obesity” may actually be more strongly connected to weight cycling.
We now know that the effects of weight cycling can include:
- a higher likelihood of
high blood pressure chronic inflammation worsened cardiovascular health early death
Why might that be the case? For one, chronic dehydration can cause high blood pressure, and dehydration is a common issue that dieters face when engaging in restrictive dieting.
High blood pressure can affect cardiovascular health, as can muscle loss (the heart is a muscle, remember?) that you might experience when yo-yo dieting.
That kind of chronic stress
When the line between disordered eating and dieting can already be difficult to parse out, it’s hard to say that there’s a way to pursue weight loss without some amount of health risk, especially when we engage in these behaviors repeatedly.
Ask yourself: Are these risks I am willing to take? And if my desire to lose weight was only about my health, why am I willing to overlook them?
Yes, really. Fixating on weight loss can actually contradict the goals you have for your well-being.
Don’t believe me? In a promising 2014 review, researchers recommend (based on growing evidence) that people are more likely to sustain healthy habits when the focus is placed on well-being and reducing weight shaming, rather than pushing for weight loss.
Remember: It’s OK to want to incorporate more movement or more nutrient-dense foods into your life! You can do so joyfully and intuitively, without shaming yourself.
Guilt is rarely a good motivator for changing our behaviors. And I would encourage you to consider your motivations behind those changes in the first place, too.
Ask yourself: What would happen if I found motivation in feeling good in my body (a vessel of amazing experiences!) rather than about my body (an object to fix or a project to work on)?
People of all sizes struggle with their body image. It’s definitely not unique to a particular kind of body or person.
Have you noticed how the temporary feeling of “mastery” that we might achieve from the initial weight loss never seems to last? The goal posts constantly move, assuring us that at some magical point in the future, we’ll hit the magic number and everything will be OK.
But we never seem to get there. And even when we do, the satisfaction slips through our fingers the moment we can no longer sustain our restrictive behaviors.
My own attempts at controlling my body led me to an eating disorder treatment center.
It was there that I heard stories from people of all sizes, all convinced that they were unworthy and unlovable because of their thighs, their hips, their bellies, their shoulders, their arms…
But it’s never really about those things, is it?
Because when you dig a little deeper, that desire for control gives us something to anchor ourselves to when the rest of our lives feel chaotic or unmanageable.
And let me validate that for a second: There’s a global pandemic happening. It makes sense that we’re all looking for those anchors right now.
But controlling your body doesn’t have to be what grounds you right now. And finding a pathway to self-love is an anchor you get to have for the rest of your life.
Ask yourself: What do I have to lose by pursuing self-love, or at the very least, self-acceptance?
Fatphobia, or discrimination and repulsion based in a fear of fat bodies, is a public health crisis.
I mean that. In fact, a
*taps mic* …Is this thing on? Let’s repeat that one for the folks in the back: Weight stigma poses a greater risk to health than what we eat, and a nearly equal risk as inactivity.
In other words, society’s stigmatization of fat bodies is creating the exact health problems it claims to be addressing with its “war on obesity.”
Weight stigma is a health crisis, and many of us are contributing to it when we suggest that “quarantine 15” is worse than getting a deadly disease.
Weight stigma is why patients of size are
This leads these same patients to
There’s no “war on obesity” that doesn’t contribute to weight stigma, and by extension, poor health.
There need not be a war against fat bodies (and there shouldn’t be). Fat people are, very simply, just people — not a plague, not a criminal enterprise. They are human beings.
If you’re looking for a plague, there’s a literal pandemic happening right now. And maybe instead of shaming people who are fat or people who have gained weight, we could shame the people who still refuse to wear masks.
Just a thought.
As Caroline Dooner, author of one of my favorite books, “The F*ck It Diet,” says, “You are not alive just to pay bills and lose weight.”
I really couldn’t say it any better myself.
If you care about your health? That’s great! Kudos. But if this article has illustrated anything, I hope it’s that health is a lot more complicated than just “calories in, calories out.”
Health, from a holistic standpoint, is really about creating a life for ourselves that allows us to experience joy and stability in our bodies, minds, and souls.
I truly believe that in prioritizing sustainable, joyful habits, we set ourselves up for a better quality of life — and better health, too! A life that isn’t determined by a number on the scale or the size of our bellies, but instead the happiness we find in connection and in the every day.
And in a world that has been turned upside down, isn’t joy and connection what really matters most?
Sam Dylan Finch is a wellness coach, writer, and media strategist in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s the lead editor of mental health and chronic conditions at Healthline, and co-founder of Queer Resilience Collective, a wellness coaching cooperative for LGBTQ+ people. You can say hello on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or learn more at SamDylanFinch.com.