Yes, me too. Like many others, I have also gained weight during the pandemic. I’ve gained weight even though I’m at peace with food. I’ve gained weight even though I no longer binge eat. I’ve gained weight even though I’ve done more walking than I had been, pre-pandemic. I’ve gained weight even though my size has been stable for years.
I also know that I’ve been doing the best I can to take care of myself. I eat regularly. I eat a wide variety of foods. My meditation practice is consistent. I move my body regularly in ways I (mostly) enjoy. I make sure I’m getting enough sleep (to the extent that I’m able to control that). I practise observing and challenging my thoughts. I also practise self-compassion.
I had already noticed a change in how my body felt. I knew I’d gained some weight, but the full realisation dawned on me when I took out my summer clothes last week when we had some warmer weather. They were a lot tighter than I’m willing to be in clothes and I didn’t like how I looked.
You might be wondering:
- Why I gained weight if I’m supposedly a peaceful eater
- What I felt and thought about it
- And what I plan to do next
Why I gained weight
As I often say to my clients – weight science isn’t fully understood yet – but it’s not just a simple matter of calories in vs calories out. There are over 100 factors involved. The only things I know for certain that have been different recently are the pandemic and that I’m in menopause. While I’ve been eating mostly with attunement to my body’s cues during the pandemic (as I was for years before it), it may be that I ate somewhat differently, but I’m no longer hypervigilant about my food, so I really couldn’t say for sure. What’s most different is the STRESS associated with the pandemic: our sense of safety and certainty (while never guaranteed) were certainly precarious – and remain so now. Elevated cortisol levels signal the body to store fat. So there’s that as a possibility. Weight gain in menopause is a known thing – so there’s that too.
Plus bodies are dynamic. They are not machines. Bodies change.
What interests me more than why I may have gained some weight, is why I’m talking about it at all.
Do I feel I need to explain myself?
Am I worried that I’ll come off as a fraud?
More than that, I value being transparent. I value being seen to be a human being who isn’t immune to diet and beauty culture messages. I value authenticity.
What do I think and feel about it?
My first response was ‘Wow! I’ve gained weight!’ I tried on all my summer clothes to be sure. And yes, everything felt tighter and I didn’t like to look of anything.
I felt unsettled. I was not having a Zen moment. Though to be fair, I also didn’t get sucked into a vortex of panic and shame. I thank my meditation practice for that! Instead:
- I become curious about what I was seeing in the mirror (rather than judgemental) – as if I was looking at a tree I hadn’t seen before.
- I called on self-compassion: ‘Ah, I’m having a bad body image moment. That sucks. You’re not alone! Be kind to yourself! Your body is not wrong even if beauty culture tells you otherwise.’
- I acknowledged the emotional discomfort I was feeling without becoming swept up in it.
- I chose to accept reality.
- I remembered what matters to me:
- That bodies do not define worthiness (even if that’s what we are told day and night)
- That my body is my partner through life
- That everyone deserves to live unapologetically in their own skin
Then I did what I tell my clients to do.
I ordered a bunch of new clothes in various sizes (I’m fully aware that not everyone is able to do this – it is a privilege). Having clothes that fit well is really important when it comes to having a healthy body image. Tight clothes or clothes that don’t fit well keep us locked into objectifying our bodies (seeing them as objects for the viewing pleasure of others). Being comfortable makes embodiment (experiencing our bodies from the inside) so much easier. Embodiment is key to a healthy body image.
I’m not a fashionista. Spending my time, energy and money on clothes simply isn’t a priority for me. All I want is 3 or 4 comfortable things I can mix and match. I’d prefer to get these from a charity shop so I’m not adding to the planet’s burden – it’s just that charity shopping requires the kind of time and energy I don’t have for it at the moment. I need to at least like the colours and feel of the fabric. I’m not obsessing about whether I love what I see in the mirror. I’ve been there and done that and it leads to nowhere good for me.
What I have learned is so important for a healthy body image is putting less attention on appearance and more attention on my life, doing the things that make it meaningful. More attention on my relationships. More attention on my work. More attention on learning. More attention on my experiences (that only happen by virtue of having this body!). And so on.
What I plan to do next
Well, I’m certainly not going to do anything to try to shrink my body. We’re good to go! I will keep appreciating my body for all it does for me and do the best I can to take care of myself. I will participate fully in everything that’s on offer: going on holiday, swimming in the sea (provided that it’s not unbearably cold, but maybe even then;)), meeting family and friends for long awaited lunches etc. My days of avoiding my life because of my body are over! I will let my body be as it wants to be, now and always. As I said – I’m putting my attention on my life, not on my appearance because I have a lot more control over where I put my attention than I have on how I look.