Quarantine has presented unique challenges for all of us. Among those challenges, people are feeling more dissatisfied with their bodies than ever.
I interviewed Dr. Kristin Wyatt, a psychologist from Duke University Medical Center. She noted that COVID-19 has greatly increased the number of people showing body dissatisfaction and problematic food behaviors.
“In the age of COVID-19, struggles with body and food preoccupation are far more prevalent in my practice relative to pre-pandemic.” — Kristin Wyatt, Ph.D.
Dr. Wyatt indicated that COVID-19 has impacted body image and food behaviors in a variety of ways. Body image concerns can emerge during the pandemic, or existing body image concerns can be amplified. Dr. Wyatt specifically notes that those struggling with eating disorders pre-pandemic are more vulnerable to relapse into what she calls “body critic patterns” — behaviors like body checking, body avoidance, or judgments about body weight, shape, and size.
“These challenges with body image and dysfunctional eating pre-quarantine have now amplified to cause significant distress and impairment in living.” —Kristin Wyatt, Ph.D.
So many of us are struggling with anxiety and fears around our health, it is easy to turn those fears inwards on our body. Is our body strong enough? Are we moving enough? Are we balanced in our eating habits?
It’s also easier to internalize the thin ideal portrayed in the media. Social media levels have reached record highs during quarantine, and sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp have seen a 40% usage increase due to COVID-19. This means we are more vulnerable to messages telling us that our worth is dependent on having a thin body, which puts us at risk for lower mood and worse body satisfaction.
So how can we shake the ever-increasing feeling that our bodies aren’t enough? That we need to lose weight to feel worthwhile?
Here are four steps you can take to honor your body during quarantine.
Nourish yourself — literally
We can honor our bodies by feeding them what they need. Generally speaking, science recommends 3 meals and 2–3 snacks per day. Nourishing our bodies generally includes eating a variety of foods, including proteins, carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. A variety of foods includes “play” foods — foods that are not essential for survival, yet essential for wellness.
Overhaul your social media
Many of the activities we used to engage in are not available to us or are limited, and we’re turning more to the internet for entertainment, socializing, and information. Most of us are Netflixing, Tiktoking, Facebooking, and relaxing in front of the TV to pass the time during quarantine. But this means we are also exposed to more messages that associate thinness with self-worth.
Combat this by giving your newsfeed a makeover. Unfollow accounts focused on weight loss. This includes accounts that promote sneaky weight-loss, like accounts that are hyper-focused on fitness, body shape, and “eating clean.” Increase your time spent with accounts that provide you with a sense of joy, entertainment, uplifting social connection, or mastery . This can include content related to hobbies, humor, or connecting with others in a meaningful way.
Participate in joyful movement
Many of us working from home during quarantine have fewer opportunities to move during the day. Make sure to take breaks from screen time by taking a gentle walk outside, taking stretch or yoga breaks, and monitoring your muscles (including your eyes!) for stress and overuse.
Additionally, given our society’s emphasis on thinness, it is difficult to remember to move our body for the sake of joy and long-term health, rather than weight loss. Instead of viewing exercise as a punishment or used in response to eating, view movement of the body as a gentle way to honor yourself. Avoid exercising when you’re injured or sick. Think of it this way — do you want exercise to be a dictator who punishes you? Or a gentle friend who balances movement and rest?
Move your body in ways that feel good to you. Try movement that is balanced — activity that increases your heart rate, but isn’t punishing. This is different for every person and can range from gentle stretching to yoga to dancing in your bedroom. Pick the movement that feels best to your body.
Remember why your body exists
Our body image suffers when we internalize thin culture and view our body’s purpose purely for looks. Our bodies are too incredible to be reduced as something to look at. Every second, millions of neurons fire so that we can have thoughts. Muscles move together in just the perfect way so that we can move. That’s a big deal.
Consider all the things your body helps you do. Every day, you can give high fives, hug your loved ones, run around the yard with your dog, and feel the sun on your skin. Remember the function of your body and how it relates to what is important to you. Thank your body for allowing you to live your life.
You can finally move towards body-love
If you’re struggling with body image during quarantine, you are not alone. And you have options. These strategies help you take ownership of your body as something to be honored, rather than picked at, destroyed, and scrutinized.
With these four steps, you can make the decision to honor your body throughout quarantine. Give your body what it needs to survive; signal to your body that you’re going to take care of it by feeding it regularly. Balance nutritional foods with play foods to maximize emotional and physical wellness. Select social media accounts that cause you joy instead of pain. Move your body in ways that are meaningful. And thank your body for the hard work it does every day to keep you alive and let you experience what is meaningful to you.