I have been in recovery from Anorexia Nervosa for nearly two years now; the decade-long restrictive eating and compulsive exercise wreaked havoc on me as I sleepwalked through ten years of my life with depression, insomnia, body dysmorphia, malnourishment, a weak gut, and nearly losing my period. After several hospitalizations, sugar crashes, dizzy spells, forbidden exercise, and 5000-calories a day food plan, I’m well into being recovered. The pulse to recovery is understanding that food is nourishment, that ALL food is good, that food has no moral value of its own, and that food will be available in abundance at all times.
In the last one week, with grocery stores shutting down amidst COVID-19 fears and WhatsApp groups talking about the need to ration food, my anxiety around food availability is through the roof. What is even more disconcerting is the number of people talking about how to not pile on the pounds now that everyone is required to stay at home. This kind of talk is a clear reflection of society’s fear of weight gain; fat is not the worst thing you can be! As a recovering anorexic who has restricted compulsive movement for a while now to make sure that I fully recover, I’m able to pinpoint the eating disorder mindset everywhere I see it. And if you haven’t gotten the drift yet, here’s a Public Service Announcement for you:
YOU DON’T HAVE TO INDULGE IN COMPENSATORY BEHAVIOR LIKE YOGA OR EXERCISE FOR ALL THE FOOD YOU ARE EATING DURING QUARANTINE
Life is difficult, life is hard, but here are 5 things you can do to not be bogged down by the diet culture:
Focus on your well-being
As I’ve learned in my recovery, thinness is NOT equal to being healthy; in fact, I was in the worst possible health when I was at my lowest weight. This difficult time is a time to focus on your well-being and not on making sure you get “some exercise” done every day. You may be stress eating at times and that’s okay. If you don’t feel like doing Yoga or “being productive,” that’s okay too; really, whatever floats your boat.
Stay away from the goddamn scale
If you have a tenuous relationship with the weighing scale, you may be sorely tempted to weigh yourself more often now that you are at home the whole day. It’s not a good idea; what is a good idea is to keep your scale in a place where you can’t access it easily, or best, smash it. The number on the scale is not reflective of your health or well-being and your toxic relationship with your scale is not worth it.
Maintain a schedule
Try to maintain a schedule for waking up, working, showering, combing your hair, and eating your meals on time. The bare minimum you should do before you sit down to work is a shower and change of clothes; it’s possible to get lost in work and not remember to shower. It’s possible to get lost in work and not remember to eat. Your hunger cues may be all over the place as you’re stressed and are at your wit’s end, but try scheduled eating. People experience a spike in their hunger when they are going through difficult times; so it’s okay if you’re hungrier than usual. Your body knows what it’s doing.
Try to stock up
I know your food anxiety is building up; if possible, stock up on some ready-to-eat meals and dry food items like rice, lentils, and legumes. These items will last you for a long time and will reassure you about having enough food to eat when you’re hungry. It’s not selfish to stock up on some food if it brings you peace of mind. You need not eat a perfectly healthy meal all the time nor does your meal always have to be nutritionally balanced. Stop counting calories, stop worrying about whether or not your meal has enough protein or is too high in carbs, or whatever it is that you think about your food all the time. The point is to just eat.
Confide in your fears
Talk to someone you trust about all your rising fears. It may be your parents, siblings, friends, or colleagues. Really, anyone who is able to empathize with you. Tell them your insecurities, your feelings, your turbulent emotions, and your fears; let someone know that you’re experiencing such anxiety.
And lastly, don’t give in to the diet mentality even though the times are difficult; this is not what you recovered for, struggling through tins of Ensure and strips of Gelusil. It’s time to stay safe, stay positive, and stay well.