We were — we still are — experiencing collective trauma. Those of us who are lucky enough to have made it through the past year and a half with our lives have still lost loved ones, jobs, homes, and, in my case anyway, momentarily lost hope that life could ever be good again. Advertisements, social media, and the media at large might suggest otherwise, but when times are as tough as these have been, gaining weight isn’t abnormal and certainly isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Hell, gaining weight has never been the worst thing in the world; as the Health at Every Size public health initiative recognizes, gaining weight and/or being fat is not a one-to-one indicator of physical health, and it’s time we all start seeing things that way. Not only does our societal fear of weight gain bolster systemic weight discrimination, it can distract us from the changes that are happening inside of us while things simultaneously change outside of us. If I had not gained those 20 pounds over I don’t even know how much time — surely the most change my body has experienced since puberty — I might never have thought to seek professional help for my mental health and might never have known what it feels like to truly have peace of mind.
If you gained weight during the pandemic, you are not alone, and you have nothing to be ashamed of because being fat isn’t inherently a bad thing. But if, like me, you think your mental health might be a factor in your weight gain or loss, Attia recommends seeing a mental health professional for an evaluation, if you have the resources to do so. “The evaluation should help the individual identify the factors that contribute to the eating and/or weight changes,” she explains. “These may include eating disorders, other mental health conditions, or more general issues around pandemic-related changes, such as working from home just steps away from one’s kitchen.”
A few months after my evaluation, I’m re-entering society with my extra 20 pounds and my too-tight pants in tow. Maybe I’ll lose that weight one day, and maybe I won’t. I don’t really care all that much because I’m tending to my brain first, which has improved my quality of life more than a keto lettuce wrap and a treadmill ever could. And I’m coming to accept that my body will continue to change during my life, as it’s supposed to. The weight gain my body has gone through most recently is now symbolic of surviving in unprecedented times. If I ever have children, my growing stomach will represent the power within me to create life. When I get older and fine lines or sagging skin start to crop up, I’ll get to say it’s a sign of wisdom. The only certainty is that I won’t look the same forever — that includes my body and its fluctuating weight.
I might be heavier or bigger right now, but what matters most is that I’ve learned how to listen to my body when it’s alerting me to something. My quarantine weight gain was never a failure — it’s been my protector all along.
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