Content warning: discussion of eating disorders
Quarantine has been a unique adjustment for everyone, but it has also given people time for new routines, habits and change. It has allowed space to learn new hobbies, to explore in-depth self-care, and for some, the opportunity to reevaluate their relationship with food.
Reevaluating your relationship with food looks wildly different for every person. Some may be reevaluating their relationship with food in order to heal from previous eating disorders. Some are rediscovering their love for movement and exercise with in-home workouts and protein-packed snacks. For others, however, quarantine has turned food and exercise into an enemy.
Diet culture on social media
Diet culture has always been pervasive on social media. Certain Instagram influencers promote clean eating and thin bodies, but whatever the intention, the focus on platforms regarding food tends to become about how to eat less of it or how to slim down. TikTok is flooded with healthy dupes for “bad” foods, ways to curb hunger, and ways to shed pounds as well.
During city lockdowns, these trends have become even more pervasive as influencers and nutrition experts are comparing their quarantine choices to that of others. There are TikTok trends going around where people document all the food they eat in the day, the miles they run, and the new workout challenges they are doing — which achieves little more than make other people self-conscious about their bodies. Social media ends up telling us that we should use a global pandemic as an opportunity to change our bodies.
These quarantine trends can be damaging toward a person’s relationship with food, but are especially dangerous for people who are recovering from eating disorders. It is difficult enough for someone to recover from an eating disorder while in quarantine, as they are literally locked in with things that could potentially trigger them. However, when they also can’t get online without seeing accounts brag about their new two-week exercise plan, or the skinny brownie recipe they made, it’s just initiates a negative mindset.
Trying to find acceptance
As I was scrolling through social media during the early days of the quarantine, I noticed how almost every health and body-related post dealt with losing weight, getting rid of acne, or working out until your whole body is sore. As someone who has struggled with maintaining a healthy body image and weight, these videos made me want to hide. I had been super proud of the strides I’ve made in gaining weight, and I had a new body I was learning to love. The people showing up with the most likes and comments, however, fit a certain mold that my new body didn’t. Here I was, trying to accept my healthy body, all the while being told that I should be using quarantine to fix it.
The thing is, I had been there before. I had dieted and been underweight and super thin — and still hated my body. At that point, it wasn’t fixed. It was when it was the most broken. It broke my heart to see young people glorifying disordered eating habits, avoiding the food they loved, and exercising after a cheat meal rather than to celebrating the joy of food.
Using social media for good
I got to the point where I couldn’t get on social media. I didn’t want to constantly be told I had to lose weight or eat healthier or work out more. However, there one day where my friend sent me a link to Mik Zazon’s (@mikkzazon) TikTok account. She was dancing, celebrating her real and beautiful body, embracing her stomach, and showing her pores. Scrolling through her account, I felt more seen and more confident than ever before. She was the first influencer on TikTok I had ever seen promote body positivity in this way, and it opened the door for me to find an entire community of people supporting each other on their journeys toward body acceptance. It me feel comfortable with the fact that I didn’t run that day. I realized it didn’t matter that I’d rather spend quarantine fixing my relationship with food that focusing on each meal. Mik helped me understand that there were ways to use social media for good.
When I reached out to speak to Mik, she told me that there were many harmful trends she’s been seeing throughout the pandemic, but the two that really caught her attention were Corona 15 memes and using lack of access to the gym as a ploy to exploit young women to purchase workout and diet programs.
The fact that gaining the “Corona 15” has become a serious fear is so disheartening. Bodies change in order to keep us healthy in every situation — so if your jeans feel tighter or your stomach fuller, that is not a loss. That is your body doing what it does. It is loving you and nourishing you, and the only thing that needs to be fixed is the way we talk about bodies.
Unfollow people if you need to
Mik has had plenty of experience with TikTok taking down her body positive messages, while leaving up damaging posts. She says, “TikTok is not a safe space for people struggling with their body, food and exercise relationship due to their lack of inclusion.” But, Mik and others are coming together to try and change this to make it a more inclusive space. However, until that happens, Mik’s advice for those struggling with body positivity on social media is to “unfollow any social media accounts that make you compare yourself or second guess part of your life that makes you unique!”
@tiktok If my size 6-8 body is against community guidelines, there is a lot of work to do to make this app a safer space for marginalized communities, the impressionable younger audience you attract, and the 1 in 4 people who struggle with their mental health. I’m done getting my videos about mental health awareness, eating disorder recovery, body confidence, and acne positivity taken down. I’m not going against community guidelines. I’m taking a stance so my message will be heard and no longer be silenced. #normalizenormalbodies #edawareness #mentalhealthawareness #eatingdisorderawareness #tiktok
When people comment “Well, I’m not eating today” on a video of a thin woman dancing, or post videos of them going on a seven-mile run without food, it perpetuates an expectation that to be healthy you have to avoid meals that give you joy. I have personally found it empowering to tap “not interested” on videos that make me feel self-conscious, while I like and comment on the TikTok accounts (that fit the message I want to send to my body.
For me, it was a complete game changer when I started following body positive accounts. I’ve learned that is my body something I shouldn’t ashamed of, but rather something I should celebrate. I have allowed myself to use quarantine to explore how to improve my own relationship with food and my body, and because of this I have found comfort in the person I see in the mirror, instead of longing to be the person on my screen.
I don’t want to come out of quarantine with a brand-new body, I want to come out of quarantine loving this healthy body I am so lucky to have.
It has been extremely concerning that in the wake of a global health crisis, people are more concerned with losing weight than prioritizing well-rounded health. If there was ever a time to focus on rest, limiting stress, and eating for nourishment and comfort, it is now. And yet, it is so hard to separate what is pro-health from what is pro-diet. Health doesn’t come with cutting carbs or running until your legs are jelly. Health comes in a body that is cared for and loved.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please visit the NEDA website.