Calling Out Pandemic Diet Culture
Posted on January 15 2021
This year has been tough, to put it mildly. The global pandemic has uprooted our lives and forced many of us to stay indoors to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Gym closures and work-from-home orders have created a prime opportunity for stoking fear around “quarantine 15” weight-gain, causing toxic diet culture to flourish.
But not everyone is taking the bait.
These body-positive advocates are using their social media platforms to call-out the harmful body shaming that’s become so commonplace during the pandemic. Instead of talking about ways to burn calories, they are encouraging people to prioritize self-care and celebrate their bodies — no matter what size they are. They’re preaching self-acceptance at a time when we need it most.
Here’s why these four health and fitness advocates are speaking out.
“It’s ingrained in us from a young age that skinny = healthy and weight gain is bad. This is a narrative that has been proven wrong again and again, and somehow, we’re still scared to get fat. I think it’s important to spread the word that body changes are normal and gaining weight doesn’t make you a bad person or a failure. If anything, it shows that you’re giving your body the grace and respect it deserves when your life changes. Could you imagine the energy and capacity everyone would have if we stopped making our body size a priority?
Practicing self-care daily and incorporating wellness into our life teaches us that we are worthy of care and keeping. The more we take good care of ourselves, the more our capacity to take care of others grows. Our community needs us more than ever, so we need to do the things that fill our cup so we can share our resources with the people who need it!”
“Gyms are closed, routines are in upheaval. Many of us are working from home and no longer get the exercise that was a natural part of our day. We are stressed. We are tired. We are anxious. We are burnt out. All of these changes happen in the landscape of our bodies. Of course our bodies might respond or change – and in ways that we perceive as frustrating. Some people may thrive during this time, which is wonderful. But survival is just as great an achievement.
This is the time for people to be realistic, to be reasonable, and to show grace and compassion to themselves and their bodies. So while people doom scroll, I hope that my social media influence interrupts them and reminds them to be kind and not put undue pressure on themselves to conform to some fictional expectation of how one should be experiencing this pandemic.
As my friend Amanda Martinez Beck writes, ‘your body is good.’ There is nothing inherently wrong with the body you have. I hope people appreciate, respect and honour their bodies for carrying them through a racial pandemic and a viral pandemic. I hope people realize that these stressors are indeed stressful. And I hope people allow themselves the permission to expand and shrink. Weight fluctuations are a natural part of life, and it’s best when we don’t attach our worth or any morality to those changes. You’re doing the best you can right now, and that’s enough. It has to be.”
“When people are more afraid of gaining ‘the Covid-15’ than they are about getting the actual Covid-19 virus, that's when we know our priorities are skewed. Fear-based marketing has always been a part of the diet and fitness industry, and when I see brands taking advantage of this pandemic to promote weight loss in a time where depression levels are skyrocketing, it is very upsetting. The need to combat these narratives is essential. Our bodies are fighting for their lives, they are taking care of scared children, they are caring for sick family members and the last thing we need is to be worrying about gaining weight.
I am fighting to redefine what a ‘fit body’ looks like in an industry that has only ever shown us that ‘young, thin, white and able-bodied’ is what fitness looks like. During this pandemic, I think more people have realized how connected our mental health is to our fitness. I always speak about the non-physical benefits of exercise and movement and I've seen many folks finally understand that the stress relief, anxiety reductions, better sleep and feel-good endorphins are just as important as any physical benefits. This body has carried you through a pandemic. This body has adapted to life in a way that we never have had to before. Be gentle to your body and be kind to your body.”
Raquel Benitah, body-positive advocate and future holistic nutritionist. Benitah speaks out about unrealistic weight loss goals, acknowledging worth at every size, and skewed social media perceptions.
“I believe it is important to combat the quarantine weight-loss narratives because there is so much more to the pandemic than weight loss. The stress and anxiety being draped over the population right now is at an all-time high. Weight loss is the last thing people should be thinking about. Of course, there is a happy medium and keeping ourselves healthy in these times is crucial, but the pressure and shame being put on people to lose weight and not gain the ‘quarantine 15’ is toxic.
As well, this is a new experience that everyone is trying their best to navigate through. Part of staying home and trying to cope with the current times is eating more than usual out of stress and boredom. This behavior should be accepted and allowed with a free pass from oneself and society.”
Fears around weight gain and tips on how to lose it are nothing new, but the COVID-19 pandemic has created a prime opportunity for these conversations to come to the forefront. When we work to shift the narrative — like these body-positive advocates are doing — we learn to embrace our bodies at any size, and focus on feeling good in our skin. Because if quarantine has taught us anything, it’s how important it is to enjoy our own company and practice self-care.
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