How To Handle Negative Body Image Thoughts in Quarantine

Trigger Warning: We want to be sensitive to our community members who may experience negative emotions surrounding weight and body image. If you feel triggered by either of these topics, please know they are discussed in this post and we encourage you to read at your comfort level.

This blog entry is the direct result of caring and supportive conversations amongst the team members here at Self-Care Is For Everyone. We love talking about mental health and whenever an important issue is discussed or a self-care tip is brought up, we look to invite our community to engage in these topics and benefit from the sharing of these healing ideas.

New Challenges During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Our lives have significantly changed throughout 2020. We’re working hard to maintain requirements and stay safe amidst a global pandemic, we’re fighting for social change, we’re trying, in so many ways, to get used to what looks to be ‘the new normal,’ yet there’s one thing that hasn’t changed since the onset of Covid-19: the collective fear of weight gain going around. Like a virus itself, it has spread from Facebook memes about the ‘quarantine 15’ to moms doing aerobics in their living rooms trying to avoid gaining weight and even young girls going on diets out of fear of putting on weight. Why? Because the world is telling them it’s unacceptable if they do. Societal norms constantly feed us the idea that we have to make our bodies smaller, become more fit, or be “bikini ready”. All of these messages are only amplified during this time and it can be extremely toxic and add more unnecessary tension to an already stressful global pandemic. Not only that, it can be so easy to fall into the habit of comparing yourself to the individuals you follow on social media. When you are scrolling through your feed, you are exposed to a continuous stream of filtered, curated photos and videos. This leads you to compare the entirety of your life (the good and the bad) to someone else’s highlight reel.

If you’ve been experiencing body image issues throughout isolation, you’re not alone. Weight gain because of anxiety, stress, or uncertainty is normal. Emotional eating is normal. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable in your body, this too is normal. Not only are we managing the very real possibility of gaining weight while in isolation, we’re also managing the fact that we’re home with ourselves, our thoughts & feelings, and food can be really comforting. Feeling stuck at home while struggling with your relationship to food can be especially triggering if you have a history of dieting, eating disorders, or food insecurity.

So how do we gently handle this new influx of challenges and how do we manage the body image issues that may be arising for us? First and foremost, we encourage you to be compassionate with yourself! If your body is changing, that’s okay. Your worth and value as a human being is not changing with it. You are just as valuable no matter how your body changes. Please remember that you are so much more than what your body looks like, you are a multifaceted individual with unique skills and talents. Healing your relationship with your body takes time, and it is not an easy ride. There will be ups and downs and the journey is never linear. Start with acceptance. Accept yourself, wherever you are in this moment, “imperfections” and all.

We gently invite you to be conscious of the media you’re taking in during this time. Email inboxes are full of cleanses and keto information, Instagram ads are focused around diet and flat tummy teas, and Facebook is the haven for all ‘quarantine 15’ memes. Unfollow accounts that are triggering for you, unsubscribe to emails that are promoting weight loss or diets. It is your job to protect yourself from the toxic information that is seeping into your virtual world. If you don’t pay attention, you will be subconsciously absorbing information that is impacting the way you view yourself. Remember, you are in control of your virtual world. Don’t be afraid to unfollow. In addition, check in and ask yourself if you need time away from these platforms to keep your mind clear and focused on your health and safety and away from body-centric posts.

More Methods to Combat Negative Body Image

  • Dig deeper into exploring your feelings. Sometimes negative body thoughts aren’t necessarily about the body, but about our worth. Our ideas, beliefs, and feelings around not being worthy or enough can manifest as negative body image, and often we won’t know this unless we work with a therapist or dive deep and uncover what’s below the thoughts. Work through this process in a journal where you can be open and honest about your feelings, acknowledging some of the underlying issues that may be contributing to your negative body thoughts. Once you identify them, you know where to place your energy into healing and strengthening.

  • Begin a notebook or journal that is just a simple list of things you appreciate about your body that have nothing to do with how it looks. This can be gratitude to your lungs for allowing you to breathe, your heart for keeping you alive, gratitude that your teeth allow you to chew your food, that your legs carry you throughout your day, gratitude that your hands paint beautiful art, or gratitude that your eyes can see the colors of the sunset. Each person’s list will be different and it can change day to day. Add to this list often and revisit it in particularly hard moments when your body image voices or thoughts are in a negative space. Allow the list to serve as a reminder of all the ways your body serves you and shows up for you outside of its appearance.

  • Actively work on challenging your body image beliefs. When you find negative body image thoughts sneaking in, challenge them out loud! Reframing our thoughts can help create new neural pathways in the brain that become easier to use over time, making it easier to think more positively about our bodies. If you are more of a visual person, another great way to challenge negative body image thoughts is to write down positive affirmations on Post-It notes and place them in spaces you’ll see often. These can serve as reminders that you are so much more than your body, all bodies are good bodies, you are worthy, your body serves you in so many ways, and you are beautiful and worthy of self-love, just as you are.

  • Reach out for help. There’s no shame in reaching out to a therapist or nutritionist during this time to help you work through the thoughts and patterns that may be coming up for you. Often negative body image thoughts can turn into food restriction or over-exercising, or other types of disordered behaviors, and we encourage you to reach out to a professional if you notice any of these behaviors or if you’re struggling with your mental health consistently due to negative thoughts about your weight or body image. Going through difficult times often means adding extra support into our toolkits, and utilizing therapy or the services of a nutritionist can help give you that support that can boost you back to a healthier mental space.

Books to Help Improve Your Relationship with Food, Body Image, and Self-Love

  • Intuitive Eating (Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch)
  • Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women (Renee Engeln)
  • Untamed (Glennon Doyle)
  • The Gifts of Imperfection (Brene Brown)
  • Body Outlaws: Rewriting the Rules of Beauty and Body Image (Ophira Edut and Rebecca Walker)
  • Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight (Lindo Bacon and Lucy Aphramor)

Quarantine is bringing up different things for different people, and body image issues are surfacing for those who have eating disorder histories and those who don’t! Regardless of your history, you deserve help if these thoughts are intruding on your everyday life. We encourage you to bring one or more of these practices into your daily routine to help lift and challenge your negative thoughts, and, if needed, reach out for additional help. You’re supported, you’re worthy, and you are enough - exactly as you are. No amount of weight gained or lost can change that.