My FaceBook feed has been filled to the brim with "Before & After Quarantine" jokes, fat-phobic memes, and an overall generalization that quarantine is synonymous with weight-gain. This says everything and more about how our society renders individuals in larger bodies as inherently unhealthy, undesirable, and (most problematically) unworthy of love. I can't help but notice that despite how our current global situation calls for kindness, generosity, and community cohesion, we still feel the need to demean others for how their bodies look. What does it say about our culture that our greatest fear, during global pandemic, is becoming "fat?" 

In short, it's hurtful to share these kinds of messages and continue to share a body-shaming culture into an already stressful time. Individuals everywhere are worried about making ends meet financially, accomplishing all of their academic goals while shifting to online classes, and modifying their lives to fit within a stay-at-home lifestyle. It's compounded with mental stressors like wanting to stay productive or just wishing that you could "mute" the people you're in quarantine with for just five minutes. These stressors have tangible, physical impacts on our bodily and mental health: like standing in the mirror and thinking (or saying) the big F-word.

Let's talk about the science of stress. 

Persistent stress causes the adrenal gland to emit cortisol: a stress hormone. This hormone then causes appetite to increase more, revving our bodies up to seek out food. Our bodies complete this vicious cycle until our emotional cues are met and cortisol levels drop back down. In short, eating is an evolutionary response to coping with stress. 

Moreover, we call certain foods "comfort foods" for a reason. Hyper-palatable foods like cookies, brownies, pasta, pizza, and chips provide soothing feelings for our brains, improve our mood, and make us feel safe. When cortisol levels are high, our bodies are literally seeking food to help "fight" off whatever stressors are present. It's your body's way of looking out for you! 

Putting yourself into deprivation-mode will only make it worse. 

You set rules for yourself: absolutely no candy. Exactly one serving of pasta. Salad for dinner- but without the dressing. But when push comes to shove, you find yourself eating far beyond your arbitrarily-set boundaries and asking: what happened? 

Putting yourself into caloric deprivation means putting your body through intense metabolic stress. It's trying to cope with everything occurring in your physical environment, and now has to work under the pressure of nutritional limitations. If you cut out essential macronutrients (like fat) your brain can't communicate messages to the rest of your body and moves into a compromised state. Once you "indulge" your body with those essential foods, you crave more of them- which then causes you to overeat. 

The stress of dealing with a global pandemic is more than enough without you subjecting yourself to stupid lemon-water detoxes and not eating toast because some Instagram influencer told you it was too carb-y. Your body is not a war zone. 

Use this time to engage in physical activity that makes you feel good rather than as a punishment. 

You don't have to do a twenty-minute full-body workout 'sesh, or go on a two mile walk twice a day just because your favorite coffee shop is closed. That being said, if high intensity workouts are your cup of tea- do them! You should spend the time engaging in activities that make you feel good about yourself and positively move your body. If you don't want to do them, that's okay too! Spend some time with a good book or hot cup of tea instead. 

Self-care comes in many forms, all of which are valid and significant. 

Resting. Engaging with others. Exploring your spiritual-self. Expanding your knowledge. Being creative. None of these things need to involve food or dieting.

If you decide that food is a vehicle for self-care and comfort, use that coping tool in a positive way. For example, I use cooking as a way to de-stress and ground myself in my physical space. Much of my childhood memories revolve around the kitchen and making cookies with my mother. Although it typically ended with me getting scolded for eating the raw dough, it brings me back to a very nostalgic and safe space. Placing shame on these experiences draws away one's agency to cope with the changing circumstances around them. It seems asinine to ask people to respect my space, both as someone who has struggled with body image and eating disorders for a long stint of her life, and just as a normal human being who is trying to navigate these uncharted waters. 

Use this time to reflect and grow. 

The more society looks at food as a weapon, the more it becomes one. We have the collective power to reflect on this time and decide what truly matters to us in the grand scheme of things. We have the power to defy norms about what constitutes a "good body" from a "bad" one and the space to use food as something that brings us together. 

These times are, with no doubt, some of the most stressful that we've seen in a very long time. Could you imagine what it would be like to show other people- and yourself- some compassion and fairness during the pandemic? Or what it would be like to accept that your body will spend all of its years carrying you around, storing knowledge to help you get a job you love doing, and loving others? Your body does so much for you, why should you treat it like it is not worthy of such gratitude? 

Although it seems painfully apocalyptic to put it this way: you need to be proud of yourself for surviving! Change is a both an evolutionary response and a fundamental part of existence. How antithetical it is that we should expect our bodies will not change with us? The moral of the story here is to be gentle with yourself, especially when the world is telling us to focus on the bigger picture.