Your desire to focus on weight and eating during stress is normal thanks to diet culture…

March 30th, 2020 by Sara Upson

blue image with limes, text reads, your desire to focus on weight and eating during stress is normal thanks to diet culture. Published during COVID-19 pandemic

We are in unprecedented times.  The coronavirus, COVID-19, is spreading all over the world, millions of people are quarantined at home, people are sick and dying, hospitals are overloaded, jobs have been lost, there’s financial stress, food shortages, and just so much going on.

Even with all this, people are more focused on diet culture: not gaining weight, exercising during quarantine, dieting, and eating “right.”  If that doesn’t speak to how loud diet culture and fat phobia is, I don’t know what will.

It seems unbelievable that we could be at such a place in the world- where things are literally falling apart- yet people are more concerned about their eating, exercising and gaining weight than they are about dying, spreading the virus, and helping to protect those who are immunocompromised.  

As odd and unbelievable as it sounds- it actually makes a lot of sense.  Diet culture is a huge distraction on life.  It’s so much easier to focus on food, body, and exercise than it is to face the reality of the world today and all the emotions it brings up. 

It’s much easier to have superficial conversations about your workouts, dieting, weight gain during quarantine than it is to have meaningful conversations about how afraid you are, how much you’re struggling, how uncertain the future is.  Most people would much rather talk about dieting and exercise, joke about weight gain and needing to be quarantined from their fridge than actually be vulnerable and have a real conversation.  It’s a sad state of the world and how deeply entrenched we are in diet culture.  I highly doubt people struggling during the Spanish flu of 1918 were worried about weight gain or exercise.

So as you enter your first, second, third, or so on week of quarantine (or whatever else is going on for you as you read this blog) please keep these thoughts in mind:

1.   Your desire to focus on weight is normal thanks to diet culture.  

Diet culture distracts from life and makes so many promises- that you’ll be happy, well, secure, loved, protected, accepted, calm, confident, healthy, and safe.  In the midst of a pandemic, who wouldn’t want to feel that way? 

It makes sense then that you’d turn to diet culture or messages from diet culture to help you feel better.  Diet culture is a strong distractor from reality, but diet culture also lies.  It makes promises that it can’t follow through on, leads to decreased health (both physical and mental) and can lead to an eating disorder.   

Diet culture is a potent manipulator of the population but it won’t get you what you really want.  On the surface it feels better to focus on diet culture and something that it seems like you can “control” than it does to focus on something uncomfortable and unknown.  In reality though, it just keeps you stuck and distracted.

2.  The mores stress you feel, the more pull you’ll feel from diet culture.

Because diet culture (and eating disorder behaviors) are a powerful moderator for strong emotions and stress- the more emotional overwhelm you feel- the more pull you’ll feel from diet culture.  These thoughts could present as: focusing more on your body, weighing, body checking, counting calories, dieting, exercising, and exercise challenges.  

Therefore, the more thoughts you have, the more frequently you have them, the more urges or behaviors you have- it’s really just communication about the level of distress that you’re experiencing.  

3.  You don’t have to respond to the thoughts- they’re really a sign that you’re feeling something.

When you understand the function of the thoughts, having them isn’t something to fear or worry about.  Instead, they’re just a sign that you’re feeling something, that something is bothering you, or that you’re overwhelmed.  Learning how to translate the thoughts is a powerful tool in eating disorder recovery and rejecting diet culture 

So remember, the thoughts are a translation of distress- not something to act on!  If you’re having eating disorder thoughts or diet culture thoughts- it doesn’t mean act on them- it means get curious, notice the thoughts and feelings and the thought or urge.  Get curious and follow up with: I wonder what I’m feeling?  What do I need?  What could I ask of myself or someone else?

4.  Your desire to feel better is normal, but diet culture isn’t the way to get there.

There are so many unknowns right now and of course you want to feel better, less anxious, more in control during this stressful time.  That being said- diet culture is not the way to get there.  Diet culture is a distraction- it takes you away from where you need to be- not closer to.

I like to think about it like a funnel and a map.  What goes in the top is stress, emotions, life events, what comes out the bottom is needing to change your eating or your body- the actions you take to change your eating or your body take you further from where you need to be- responding to your true needs.  

It is important to take care of yourself.  Diet culture makes grand promises, elusive promises- but it’s not actually what you need or even close to what you need.  If anything it takes you further and further away from getting your needs met.

5.  You don’t need to focus on food, weight, or exercise at this time- focus on the basics and take care of yourself.

While diet culture might keep trying to lure you back into focusing on your body and eating- it’s a trap!  It’s like homer in the odyssey listening to the sirens sing.  Diet culture is the sirens and you are it’s prey waiting to be taken advantage of…

Instead know that you don’t need to focus on food, weight, or exercise at this time.  Focus on taking care of yourself and your basic needs.  Eat, sleep, hydrate, relax, express emotions, feel, reach out for support, use self compassion, and positive coping skills.

Do what you need to do to take care of you- but make sure you’re actually taking care of yourself and not a number on the scale or diet culture.  Diet culture will try to convince you that you’ll feel better- and in the short term you might- it is a strong distractor and likely the strongest distractor that you know- but it will also steal your time, money, life, and won’t be able to truly deliver on any of the promises it makes.

So while it might be hard- instead of diving into diet culture try these things instead:

  1.  Notice the thoughts that you’re having.
  2. Check in with yourself- what are you feeling, what do you need?
  3. Use positive coping skills.
  4. Reach out for support.
  5. Validate your emotions and remember that this is a difficult time.  Of course you desire to feel better.

Again, sending you so much love and compassion during this stressful time.

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