For many of us, staying inside during quarantine plus the constant stress of living during a pandemic has triggered—or re-triggered—disordered eating behaviors. It doesn’t help that memes and other media are sparking an unfounded fear of gaining weight at a time when anxiety is already running high. Here, intuitive eating coach, anti-diet dietitian, and 2020 Well+Good Changemaker Christy Harrison, RD, MPH, shares exactly how to cope right now if your relationship with food is stressful—not comforting—right now.
COVID-19 is a public health crisis, the likes of which pretty much no one alive right now has ever seen in their lifetimes. We’re scared, we don’t know what to do, and we feel motivated to do whatever we can to protect our health. The fact that we live in a culture that is constantly pushing restrictive practices of dieting and exercise to confer “health” has made a lot of people turn to those kinds of behaviors right now—particularly restrictive eating.
Restrictive eating isn’t health-promoting. In fact, behaviors linked to restrictive eating—like bingeing—can actually cause mental and physical stress that only add to the overall lack of control we feel in the face of COVID-19. This rings true of both folks with a long-standing history with disordered eating and those in recovery. Moments of stress like this one require a lot of coping skills, and people tend to fall back on old, tried-and-true ones (like restrictive eating) that they’ve internalized as opposed to newer, more adaptive ones (for example, writing a “can’t control” list). Past behaviors flare back up, even for folks who thought their issues with food were long behind them.
Additionally, the widespread worry about gaining weight during quarantine has pushed people to embrace unhealthy eating patterns. That fear is being exacerbated by diet culture—a system that worships thinness (and equates it to health and moral virtue); promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher health status, moral status, or social status; and uses over-simplified labels for foods (like “good’ and “bad”). Diet culture oppresses people who don’t match up with the supposed picture of health and well-being, including larger-bodied people, people with chronic health conditions, and people who are priced out of its practices of being “healthy.”
When you’ve internalized diet culture, it’s very easy to tout many of its beliefs. You think that weight gain is bad when you link it to a moral failing. Media—and social media in particular—is making it worse. Influencers and headlines are encouraging the “no pain, no gain” attitude, and I think it’s making people feel like they need to restrict. At the same time, the dubious notion that people in larger bodies are more at risk and more vulnerable to COVID-19 is spreading—without solid scientific research that adequately controls for confounding variables.
All of this leads to a perfect…