Gained the Quarantine 15? How to stop shaming yourself for pandemic weight gain
A therapist and weight-loss expert weighs in on how to make peace with your body after putting on weight during the pandemic.
Mercey LivingstonCNET Contributor
Mercey Livingston is a health and wellness writer and certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She's written about fitness and wellness for Well+Good, Women's Health, Business Insider, and Prevention.com among others. When not writing, she enjoys reading and trying out workout classes all over New York City.
The #Quarantine15 started trending not long after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic when self-quarantines, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were put into place. With so many people who were once used to hitting a gym, going to fitness classes or just moving around more in general now forced to stay home, gaining weight was basically a running joke.
Now that the pandemic continues without an end in sight, it's no laughing matter -- especially for those that struggle with their weight, body image or even eating disorders. Quarantine weight gain is real but it's not something to be ashamed of. It's normal to expect that your body may change when life has changed in such a drastic way -- and that's OK. Whether you are not as active and sitting more, going through a stressful time or not eating healthily because you're now working full-time as well as taking care of children or sick loved ones, there is no need to feel shame or that you "failed" because you gained weight.
If you're struggling with negative feelings around your body or weight right now, keep reading for advice from Eliza Kingsford, a licensed psychotherapist and behavior-change specialist who helps clients struggling with food addiction, body image, emotional eating and weight loss. Below, she shares her best advice on how to work on accepting weight gain and moving forward in a healthier physical and mental place.
Release any shame and guilt
When you're unhappy with your current weight or not feeling the best about your body, it's easy to get trapped in a cycle of guilt or shame. But guilt and shame can be huge obstacles to overcome on the way to feeling better, which is the goal at the end of the day.
"Even if you have gained weight, even if you don't love what you see in the mirror, even if you are working on a better relationship to food and body, the shame and the guilt that goes on top of it has never served anyone," Kingsford says. "No one has ever shamed themselves into a better job, or shamed themselves into being a better parent, or shamed themselves into being a better partner."
One of the best ways to break any cycle of guilt or negative comparison is to work on ways to pivot your thought process and try to focus on positive things instead of letting your mind spiral into guilt or shame. One way to change your thought patterns for the better is by cultivating a gratitude practice.
"People think that gratitude is kind of a nice to have, or woo-woo hokey thing," Kingsford says, "but from a scientific brain research perspective, the more time we spend focusing on and intentionally looking at what we are grateful for, it lights up the parts of our brains that are connected to positivity, happiness, positive feelings and what makes us feel good."
She recommends coming up with a simple practice like starting each day writing down five to 10 things you are grateful for (anything big or small). Then take the time to really feel that gratitude -- be careful not to rush through the list and move on.
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During the COVID-19 crisis, people are disconnected from their friends, family or community IRL and so we are spending more time on social media. And while Instagram in particular can be a great place to find inspiration when it comes to fitness and nutrition, it can also contribute to comparisons and make you feel inadequate, or like you're not keeping up with others who seem to be doing all the home workouts and making beautiful smoothies.
"If you are finding yourself scrolling through your feed and feeling worse, be able to recognize that," Kingsford says. "If you see someone one the screen and find yourself saying, 'Oh I could never have those abs,' you need to intentionally practice stopping and becoming aware of what you just said to yourself and saying something else like: 'She has beautiful abs. There's room for my beauty too.'"
When we don't recognize this shame and comparison spiral, it can be dangerous because, according to Kingsford, scrolling and making comparisons can make you feel worse without really noticing it at first.
"So you've got to take action and stop scrolling or unfollow anyone that triggers negative emotions," she suggests.
You can do that by taking an honest look at how much time you're spending on your phone, and then cultivate awareness around what posts and accounts trigger negative emotions. From there you can do a social media "audit" and try to curate a more positive feed. Tip: If you don't want someone on
to see that you unfollowed them, you can always mute them instead and they won't know. That means they won't show up in Instagram stories or on your feed or both.
Take your focus off of the weight
It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best things you can do for a healthy body (and mind) is to try to stop focusing on or obsessing about your weight. One way you can do that is by stepping away from the scale, and staying away from it while you're focusing on building more positive habits and a positive mindset around weight.
Then, Kingsford recommends taking a deeper look around why you want to lose weight. Sure, there's nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight and feel better physically, but often there is another emotional element. "Weight is a representation of something that you want to feel. And you think you are going to feel whatever it is when your weight hits that number," she says.
For example, if someone says they want to lose 50 pounds, Kingsford's next question is, "What do you think will be different when you lose 50 pounds?" And often clients will start listing things like, "I'll feel more confident, connected to my partner, I'll feel more empowered." She says it's important to get clear on how you want to feel, not how you want to look since, "weight is just a representation of the feelings you're looking to get towards."
Once you identify the feeling you want, whether that is to feel more confident, attractive or empowered, you can then focus on actionable things that can help you get closer to that feeling that you are seeking but maybe didn't realize before when you were only focused on extra weight.
"What are the things that I would be doing everyday that would produce that feeling? That is really the question," Kingsford says. "So when we're talking about what I can be eating, or should I be working out, the question I want to ask myself is, 'Does this food or activity or lack of activity get me closer to those feelings of empowerment, embodiment, connection, joy or whatever it is?' And that's a different way to look at your actions and behaviors."
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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.