Brankin: The shame of COVID weight gain

It is time to accept that it’s okay to have gained weight during quarantine.

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Tara Brankin

It seemed to have happened so suddenly: With each passing day in quarantine, I felt my jeans getting smaller and smaller; I felt my shirts and coat tighten. I never realized how much walking to class helped me maintain my weight until I couldn’t go anymore. Like everyone else, once it became clear that quarantine was going to be more than a week, and then more than a month, I started to get more depressed and anxious. One thing that helped me feel better during this time was food.

Before mask mandates were put into effect, I, like many of the other people I know, was terrified to go to the store to go grocery shopping. This led me to order food instead, usually from places like D.P. Dough and Taco Bell. Obviously, the food from these restaurants tends to have very high-fat content, which made me gain weight very quickly. Turning 21 didn’t help either, because after I was able to buy alcohol, I started drinking wine frequently. I seemed to neglect the fact that wine is calorically dense, and drinking wine was adding to the already large amount of calories I was consuming.

At the same time, many fitness influencers, like YouTuber Chloe Ting, started gaining massive popularity during quarantine for posting workout videos people could do from home. For weeks, my TikTok “for you” page was flooded with videos of people undergoing weight loss because of Ting’s videos, flexing their newly developed abs. This started to make me feel like I was the only one not trying to better myself. I have never enjoyed exercising, and I could not find the motivation to watch any of Ting’s videos, much less attempt them myself. Let me be clear: There is absolutely nothing wrong with exercising and getting fit. I really admire people who have the motivation to work out, but during quarantine, I personally could not find that motivation.

I am not alone in my quarantine weight gain. According to the American Psychological Association, 61% of Americans experienced unwanted weight gain since the start of the pandemic. This has been attributed to the high levels of stress caused by the spread of COVID-19, along with entering quarantine and not leaving the house. Additionally, 23% of adults reported drinking more alcohol during quarantine, which also contributes to weight gain. Of the group that reported gaining weight during quarantine and the rest of the pandemic, the average weight gain was around 29 pounds.

Even psychologists acknowledge that we should not be beating ourselves up for quarantine weight gain. Paula Freedman, a psychologist who specializes in eating disorders, believes that in order for people to overcome self-consciousness surrounding weight gain, we must break the cycle of shame. This means identifying when we started to believe that we need to be ashamed of our weight in general. For me, I began to feel the shame of quarantine weight gain around the same time I saw people on TikTok and Instagram posting about their fitness progress.

Over these past few months, I have been trying to overcome my shame of gaining weight during quarantine. Deep down, I know that while I was the one eating and drinking too much, the circumstances under which I was making these mistakes were unprecedented. I never thought that I would be spending my entire junior year trying to keep it together during a global pandemic, and while there were definitely better coping mechanisms that I could have adopted, I am trying really hard to remember that I can’t beat myself up for the choices I’ve made since quarantine started.

Weight gain — and weight loss — is inevitable throughout a person’s life. I am certainly no stranger to weight fluctuation, and I know that quarantine will not be the last time I gain weight during my life. I’ve realized that dwelling on disliking my body does nothing but take away from the other aspects of my life that are great. Quarantine had negative effects on everyone’s life, and in the grand scheme of things, gaining weight is not something that I should be ashamed of.