It's Okay If You Want to Lose Weight You've Gained Over Quarantine — But You Don't Need to
It's that time of the year. Summer is here, and to add to the normal pressure that many of us already feel at this time of the year as bulky layers come off and swimsuits come on, is the fact that we're also simultaneously living through a global pandemic that has drastically altered our lives in a multitude of ways. For many of us, that's also resulted in bodies that perhaps look and feel different than they did pre-pandemic.
In March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, I already saw a shift in the fitness and diet industries. We were one month into what would turn into over a year of quarantine for many of us, and already, the diet industry was warning us against "gaining the COVID 15."
Now, roughly 16 months later, the diet industry is out to convince us to get our pre-COVID bodies back for summer.
The beauty and diet industries are invested in telling us that we aren't enough and that we need something outside of ourselves to be worthy and deserving of love. They prey on our insecurities because the more they can convince us that being in a smaller body equals being "healthier'' or that our happiness lies on the other side of fat loss, the more we continue to spend our hard-earned money on the "solutions" they supposedly offer. As a result, 75 percent of American women surveyed by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill endorse unhealthy thoughts, feelings, or behaviors related to food or their bodies. Meanwhile, the diet industry has become a $71 billion per year industry, according to CNBC.
But diets don't work. About 95 percent of dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. And it comes at a serious cost: Weight cycling, the constant losing and gaining of weight a result of dieting, leads to adverse health outcomes including a higher risk of death, according to research published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
The diet industry does not have, nor have they ever had, our best interests in mind. They aren't concerned about our health. They're concerned with one thing and one thing only: their bottom line. They trick us into believing that the problem lies within: We aren't disciplined enough; we haven't purchased the right exercise plan; we haven't found the right way to eat for our bodies. We keep spending more money looking for the one thing that's going to help us conquer weight loss once and for all, and they keep getting rich at our expense.
All the while, we sink deeper into despair and grow continuously more unhappy with ourselves.
In the quest to fix ourselves and find the solutions to these "problems," we're often left with more body image issues than when we started. It leaves us with complicated relationships with food and exercise, and less trust in our intuition and in our bodies.
For many of us, we spent the last year with limited or no gym access. We were more sedentary. We spent more time alone. We didn't see our friends and family as frequently. Some of us lived in fear and anxiety. That, combined with the collective trauma and grief of the last year, has likely left some of us feeling more self-conscious about our bodies and more apprehensive as things "get back to normal." (See: Why You Might Be Feeling Socially Anxious Coming Out of Quarantine)
The idea of seeing folks for the first time while also being cognizant of our changing bodies can be unsettling, especially within a fat-phobic society that puts so much emphasis on how we look. Even if we can recognize the harmful nature of diet culture, that doesn't shield us from the realities of weight stigma that exist in the world.
All that said, it's understandable if you're struggling with body image right now, especially if it was a struggle prior to the global pandemic. We're constantly reinforced with messages that shape our perception of our own bodies and the bodies of others. We've conflated the idea of what it means to be "healthy" with a physical look, and we stigmatize fat bodies. Understanding this reality is what allows us to see the insidious nature of diet culture and hopefully begin the process of actively decolonizing our minds and seeking liberation for ourselves. (Also read: The Intersection of Race and Diet Culture)
While temperatures rise and you don your summer clothes, you may find that they don't fit the same. I'll speak for myself; my shorts from last summer are certainly a lot more snug than they were previously. My thighs are thicker. My waistline has undoubtedly gained a couple of inches. My body is softer where it was once more defined.
But regardless of how you're feeling about your body, I encourage you to show yourself compassion, kindness, and tenderness. Your body survived an immensely challenging year. Yes, it's hard, but let's work towards celebrating and appreciating the body we have right now — in its current shape, size, and ability level. (Start here: 12 Things You Can Do to Feel Good In Your Body Right Now)
I've said many times before, and I'll continue to say it until the end of time; your body is already summer-ready.
Here's the reality: You could spend your entire existence worrying about the way your body looks, and you could allow it to cloud your achievements, taint your accomplishments and celebrations, and dull your experiences. But whether it's a global pandemic, a chronic illness, a change in lifestyle, birthing a child, or simply the process of aging, all of our bodies will continue to change. They were designed to do that. It's inevitable.
If I learned nothing else from living through a global pandemic, it's just how fleeting and unpredictable our existence is. No matter how much you plan and try to control, so many things will simply not go according to your plans.
What a tragedy it would be to spend the best moments, days, or a lifetime fighting with our bodies and wishing it were something else.
If we base our self-worth on what our bodies look like or how they perform, we will forever be on the emotional roller coaster of body obsession and body shame. We are inherently worthy because we exist, not because of what we look like. Developing the ability to radically accept our bodies and recognize their inherent worth is what draws us closer to liberation. (See: Why We've Changed The Way We Talk About Women's Bodies)
We all deserve pleasure and joy now — in our current bodies. Not when we lose a few pounds. Not when we achieve the body of our dreams. Ultimately, our looks are the least interesting thing about us. I don't want to be remembered for the way I look. I want to be remembered for the way I made people feel.
As I re-engage with the world and ebb out of quarantine, I'll meet my friends and family whom I haven't seen in a long time, not with judgment or concern about the size and shape of their bodies but with gratitude that they are still living and breathing.
When I think about my own body and how it's changed over the course of the past year, I'm reminded that this is a body that got me through an immensely challenging and traumatic year. I don't consider my body perfect, and perhaps you don't either. But I stopped asking my body for perfection a long time ago. My body does so much for me, and I refuse to be convinced that it's not worthy or needs fixing or needs to "get back in shape." It's already a shape, and the shape it's in now is worthy of wearing the swimsuit and the shorts and the tank top. (See: Can You Love Your Body and Still Want to Change It?)
Yes, summer is officially here. Yes, we are re-engaging with the world in ways we haven't done over the past year. Yes, our bodies may have changed. But the truth remains, you don't need to "get ready." Refuse to allow all the insidious marketing of diet culture to allow you to believe otherwise. You are a masterpiece. A work of art. You are magic.
Chrissy King is a writer, speaker, powerlifter, fitness and strength coach, creator of the #BodyLiberationProject, VP of the Women's Strength Coalition, and an advocate for anti-Racism, diversity, inclusion, and equity in the wellness industry. Check out her course on Anti-Racism for Wellness Professionals to learn more.