You shouldn't be hard on yourself for gaining weight during the pandemic - here's why

You shouldn't be hard on yourself for gaining weight during the pandemic - here's why
Crystal Cox/Business Insider
  • I recently gained weight during the pandemic but am trying not to be hard on myself about it.
  • Realizing that many of my pre-quarantine clothes no longer fit was difficult to accept.
  • Practicing body acceptance and mindful eating habits are two ways I'm addressing my weight gain.

Ever since middle school, I've always been someone who's struggled with their weight.

Over the years, my weight has continuously fluctuated. I've gained weight, lost a few pounds, gained some back, and so on. Three years ago, I lost over 30 pounds and reached what I described then, problematically, as my "goal weight," which I managed to maintain until last year.

Last year, I realized that I wasn't as active or mindful about my eating habits as I used to be

When the coronavirus pandemic began to shut down businesses and sent me into a working-from-home schedule, I became less active. Daily meal-prepped salads soon gave way to ordered-in fast food. Even walking to the subway back and forth every workday kept me active prior to the pandemic. Now, a whole week will go by before I've even stepped outside. Food has become one of my few comforts and entertainments in the pandemic and eating healthy is a constant struggle. In essence, my lifestyle completely shifted.
Advertisement
I spoke to Rachael Hartley, a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and owner of Rachael Hartley Nutrition who specializes in promoting intuitive eating and non-diet approaches to eating and enjoying food, about how the pandemic has affected eating habits and nutrition.

Rachael Hartley recommends that during this time, people don't take themselves, or their diets, so seriously.

"The pandemic has thrown most people's lives into some level of chaos," she told Insider. "A lot of times, that is going to be reflective in behaviors around food. In terms of what struggles people are going through in the pandemic, it really varies. For some, it's figuring out how to prepare food at home. For others, it's been a huge trigger for disordered eating, especially with all the 'quarantine 15' memes and people pushing on social media their pandemic 'get fit' plans. How the pandemic has affected people's eating patterns is just as varied as how the pandemic has affected people's social lives and financial situations."
Advertisement

It might come as no surprise that because of the lifestyle changes many of us are facing, I gained some weight.

I do not know exactly how much weight I've gained. One part of struggling with body image issues and weight fluctuation has always been scale monitoring. When I was at the height of one of my usually toxic "weight loss journeys," I would weigh myself every day. Now, I make it a point to not use a scale and instead base my health around what I feel and how my clothes fit. There are some pros and cons of living this way. While it does relieve some weight gain anxiety by not knowing exactly how much I've gained, it also meant that my weight gain really hit me all at once when I could no longer fit into any of my jeans.
Advertisement

At the start of the pandemic, I was wearing leggings and sweatpants nearly every day. However, when it finally came time to try on some of my pre-pandemic jeans, I was shocked to see that they no longer fit. As in, none of my dozen pairs of jeans could even get over my thighs.

A range of emotions flashed through my head - sadness, anger, and embarrassment, to name a few - when I realized none of my jeans fit

However, I decided then and there that I wouldn't let a pair of jeans dictate my happiness or my self-worth.

"Clothing can be one of the biggest triggers for my clients," Rachael Hartley told Insider. "We use clothes to express ourselves. That's why it's important to have clothes that can change with your body, whether that's a stretchier-waist pant or comfortable dresses. Wearing clothes that feel physically comfortable on your body is a smart decision for people to make, in or out of quarantine."
Advertisement

I've gained weight during the pandemic, but I refuse to be hard on myself or let it affect how I view myself. Here's why.

The coronavirus has killed more than 400,000 people in the US alone, and even more worldwide. Millions of people are currently out of work. People are missing their family members and friends, either due to death or physical separation due to social distancing, and experiencing stress as a result.

In the face of all this devastation, anxiety, and sadness, it's important to remember that simply being alive and healthy is a blessing at the end of 2020. My body, no matter what it looks like, has gotten me through the past year relatively unscathed.
Advertisement
Despite the pounds I may have gained, that is certainly something to be thankful for.

Lifestyle changes and increased stress are two reasons I've gained weight - both of which are normal in a global pandemic

After I realized I had gained weight, I started to consider picking back up the healthy habits I had at the beginning of quarantine. Things like drinking water, doing a little light exercise, journaling, and getting outside make all the difference in my wellbeing, but it can be so hard to find the motivation to do them.

Read more: I've picked up healthy, positive habits during the coronavirus lockdown - here are the ones I hope to continue with after restrictions are lifted
Advertisement

For me, practicing healthy habits and self-care is not about weight loss - it's about fueling my body and making it the healthiest it can be in this pandemic. It's not about the number on the scale or dieting - it's about trying to feel good about my body and myself despite the overwhelming state of the world.

"If your self-care behaviors are a bit wonky right now, it can take a lot to adjust to this massive lifestyle change we're all in right now," Hartley said. "If you're looking at trying to get back into more health-permitting habits to take care of yourself, that's wonderful. However, you can do that without looking at a number on the scale or seeing weight as a problem you're trying to fix or solve." "A lot of people now working from home are working through lunch or sleeping in later," she said. "As simple as it is, I encourage my clients to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with snacks between meals. It's totally okay to eat while watching the latest Netflix shows but keep in mind mindful eating skills as well. Pause, check in with your food, see how it tastes, and check if you're satiated or not."
Advertisement

"I also encourage people to incorporate gentle movement into their days, whether that's a walk around the block or an exercise you enjoy," she said. "When you're feeling depressed or lonely, it's hard to have that level of motivation to do something more energy-inducing. Simply getting outside is a good enough goal for most people, and you'll likely feel better after achieving that goal."

I'm not being hard on myself about gaining weight

Instead, I am taking control of what habits I can change or bring back to make me the happiest and healthiest "me" possible, while still accepting and loving my body for what it is right now and allowing myself those "comfort foods" in moderation.

"Food is one way we can soothe and cope with our emotions," Rachael Hartley said. "Right now, we're in a situation where a lot of us don't have our usual coping mechanisms. We're relying on food a bit more, and that's okay. We're just surviving a time that none of us were mentally prepared for."
Advertisement

"If we're able to put together a really delicious meal at the end of a stressful day, absent the fear of weight gain and absent fatphobia, the idea of comfort eating is not a problematic thing," she continued. "I encourage people to look at the situation and be thankful they have food there for them to help them get through this time. Having appreciation and normalization of food helps people normalize behaviors with food."

As for the advice Rachael Hartley would give to people who have gained weight during the pandemic and are feeling uncomfortable with that, she explains it's all about reframing your outlook around weight loss and gain.

"Gaining weight isn't a bad thing," Hartley said. "Bodies change all throughout life for all different reasons and getting through a global pandemic may be one of the reasons your body size changes during life. The only reason it is framed as a negative is because we live in a culture that looks down upon weight gain as letting go of yourself or not caring for yourself."
Advertisement
"It's okay if you gain weight. There is nothing wrong with that. Let's never feed into this idea that weight gain is the worst thing that can happen to you."
{{}}