My home state of New York has been on lockdown for several weeks due to the corona virus pandemic and I’m going on my fourth week of moving to virtual nutrition counseling services for folks with eating disorders and disordered eating concerns. In that time, I’ve heard countless people express the fear of gaining the “Quarantine 15” or “COVID 19”. You’ve probably heard it or seen the memes widely shared on social media. Maybe you’ve even been the one to speak this fear or share a meme. What does it say about our society that some people are more afraid of gaining weight during a deadly global pandemic than they are of actually getting sick? I don’t know about you, but if I survive this pandemic with my health and all of my loved ones and I also happen to gain some weight, I’ll consider myself very lucky.
Why we Make Jokes About Gaining Weight
These are stressful and unprecedented times. You might be an essential worker still going into work, you might be working from home while trying to care for your family, or you may have lost your job and are wondering how you’re going to afford all the things you need. It makes sense if you’re barely getting through each day and dealing with a variety of feelings including panic, grief, loneliness, sadness, and boredom, amongst others. It also makes perfect sense if you find yourself eating more than you typically would and gravitating towards more high calorie foods. It would be completely normal if you didn’t have the mental energy to do one of the many available live streamed workouts. Will this necessarily lead to weight gain? Maybe, but maybe not.
We are more likely to gain weight if we diet. We know this without a doubt. Dieting often leads to weight gain in the end. If you have strict rules around which foods you can and cannot eat and are extremely disciplined about your workout routine in the effort to maintain a certain body size, then your body may change during this time. If you are an intuitive eater (either because diet culture never got to you or because you’ve been doing great work with a Health at Every Size Intuitive Eating professional), you know that sometimes we cope with our emotions with food and this is perfectly okay! For the dieter, eating emotionally can trigger feelings of being out of control and feeling like they failed on their diet. It can immediately trigger worries about weight gain. For the intuitive eater, eating emotionally is just one of many ways to cope with feelings and it can actually be quite comforting and not cause any worry about weight gain.
It’s a whole lot easier to joke about these weight changes than to accept that bodies change and that it’s okay. It’s also easier to focus on the size of our bodies than on the scary reality around us. This lockdown and weird new reality isn’t going to be forever. In the scheme of our lives, it will be a small blip (hopefully).
Why Your Fat Jokes Aren’t Funny
Although humor is definitely helping to get us through this difficult time, your fat jokes just aren’t funny. When you joke about becoming fat during this pandemic, you once again point out to all of your fat friends and fat followers that your worst fear is looking like them. These jokes are also incredibly triggering to people with eating disorders who are already going to incredible lengths to alter the size of their body. Some people who see these posts and are doing well in their recovery and being able to respect their here and now body may be reminded of the fact that bigger bodies are stigmatized and discriminated against and they might relapse into old behaviors. It might also trigger new eating disorders in vulnerable people who were already feeling some body dissatisfaction.
You’re not a bad person for sharing these jokes. You’re just a person living in diet culture. But before you make the same tired quarantine weight gain joke or share the fat joke meme, please consider how it can affect your children/family/friends listening, people in recovery from eating disorders, people who already live in larger bodies, and ultimately yourself. If your fear of weight gain is really that strong, perhaps you need some additional support navigating your relationship with food. Sending you so much compassion.
Resources for Eating Disorder Support During The Coronavirus Pandemic
For anyone struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating that is causing distress, check out this spreadsheet for free or low cost support. Andanother list of virtual support groups here.
The National Eating Disorder Association has resources on their website.
For anyone in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut struggling with an eating disorder, disordered eating, body image concerns, or who wants to improve their relationship with food and their body, I offer virtual nutrition counseling and meal support. I am in network with Aetna, Cigna, and Empire NYSHIP. Send me a message to schedule your appointment or let me know if there’s any way I can assist you during this time!
For general mental health support during this global pandemic, check out this resource from the CDC.