Diet culture is as stale as the low-cal snacks collecting dust in my cupboard. Airbrushed imagery and subliminal messaging bombard us daily, telling us to tie our purpose to our physique.
This phenomenon is especially disturbing in our new, post-pandemic reality. After surviving a pandemic that has taken over 3.5 million lives, diet companies would have us believe the most pressing issue is our waistline.
Let me take a moment to say, f*ck that. Our bodies have carried us through the worst collective trauma this generation has experienced in recent history.
My body won’t be shamed for what it had to do to get through this past year. And yours shouldn’t, either.
The Majority Of Us Put On A Few Pandemic Pounds
A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association in February 2021 found that 61% of adults experienced undesired weight changes since the pandemic started. Gen Z-ers, millennials, parents, and essential workers reported the most weight gain.
One month later, JAMA Network Open published a study in which weight measurements were collected from 270 middle-aged men and women. From February to June 2020, participants’ weights increased by 1.5 pounds per month.
At that pace, that would add up to an extra 20 pounds by February 2021. So, not only is pandemic weight gain normal—it’s common.
Why The Sudden Weight Gain?
Because 2020 sucked.
The pandemic was and is traumatic. An Australian study found the pandemic to be “capable of eliciting PTSD-like responses and exacerbating other related mental health problems.”
Last year, the emotional, mental, and physical toll of the pandemic became so commonplace, it was almost easy to forget. But our bodies didn’t.
In fact, according to the APA, Americans are more stressed out than ever. Stress lowers levels of serotonin, which increases anxiety and causes increased appetite, overeating, and weight gain.
High-calorie, sugary foods do the exact opposite by temporarily increasing serotonin levels. So, who can blame anyone for turning to a comfort snack or two?
Apparently, The New York Times Can
In early May, the New York Times (NYT) spoke to Jessica Short about an all-too-real post-pandemic dilemma: none of Short’s clothes seemed to fit her anymore, and she was embarking on a new diet.
The article begins as a peek into the booming post-pandemic diet industry. But amid corporate news and personal testimonies, the NYT managed to squeeze in some not-so-thinly veiled anti-fat rhetoric.
According to the NYT, people either made healthy choices like cooking at home and riding their Peloton “for hours,” or they managed through “less healthy means,” specifically, “sitting on their couches, drinking chardonnay, and munching on Cheetos.”
Was this trivialization of a trauma response intentional? I’m not sure. But immediate backlash suggests others received the same message I did: if you gained weight during the pandemic, then you didn’t try hard enough.
But Size Doesn’t Equate To Health
Stigma and discrimination toward obese persons is nothing new. In fact, weight discrimination in America has increased in prevalence by 66% over the past decade.
Long-held misconceptions that obese individuals are “lazy, weak-willed, or unintelligent” have pervaded all aspects of our society. We internalize these notions in childhood. And as a result, we associate fatness with laziness and thinness with beauty.
In reality, thinness doesn’t equal healthiness. And “Cheetos and chardonnay” quips do nothing but externally validate the internalized fat-phobias promoted in this country (we’re calling you out, NYT).
Twitter user @Dumily_Chambers summed it up perfectly: “The last time Americans went through a pandemic like this, their pharmacist gave out opium and their pop had cocaine. Just let us eat our f***ing chips, NYT.”
Weight Loss Isn’t The Be-All And End-All
I’m not saying prioritizing physical health is unwise. Obesity can increase the risk of hypertension, heart disease, and mental illness. But it’s not the only cause of these issues, and a smaller number on the scale isn’t a guaranteed fix.
Furthermore, a University of California study found that dieting might be altogether ineffective.
“Weight regain appears to be the typical response to dieting, not the exception,” explains Traci Mann, Ph.D., co-author of the UCLA research paper.
Instead, the American Heart Association suggests focusing on incorporating more nutrient-rich whole foods and water into your daily routine. Restrictive diets and overexercising can lead to a slew of negative psychological and physical problems.
The World Is Different And Your Body Will Be, Too
It’s important to remember that COVID affected all—your body included. So, even if your pants fit a bit snug, it’s crucial to give yourself the same grace you extended to others during this trying time.
As someone who has struggled with body issues and weight fluctuations my entire life, I understand that not letting a few extra pounds get you down is much easier said than done. But if there was ever a reason to treat yo’self with a glass of wine and your favorite snack, a pandemic is a pretty damn good one.
So, pat yourself on the back. You survived, and no number on the scale will ever change that fact.
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