If I told you I’ve gained weight during lockdown, what would you think of me?
Chances are, the words ‘greedy’, ‘lazy’ and ‘unhealthy’ might float into your consciousness, even if you see yourself as fairly woke when it comes to body positivity. Maybe your mind would fill with images of Bridget Jones lying on the sofa eating ice cream from the tub, or the kid from Matilda eating chocolate cake with his hands.
I don’t blame you – it’s really not your fault. Whether we consciously subscribe to the narrative or not, we have been conditioned by the media and cultural rhetoric to believe that gaining weight equals ‘bad’ and losing weight equals ‘good’. People who gain weight have ‘let themselves go’, while those losing it are disciplined and self-controlled. As one of the estimated 1.25million people in the UK who suffer from an eating disorder, this mentality is all-consuming.
Entering lockdown back in March, I was firmly stuck in a relapse of anorexia, an eating disorder I have struggled with for seven years. I had moved into a flat-share in London in January and immediately fell back into old habits, which were beginning to take their toll on my body. A few weeks into lockdown, I was put on furlough at work and begrudgingly decided to move back home with my parents to save money and escape what was then the epicentre of the pandemic.
“Though my body still hasn’t completely recovered on the inside, I have been at a healthy weight for the last couple of months.”
Although my eating disorder gave me hell for it, back in the safety of my family home I gradually got back on track with regular meals, restarted NHS therapy over Zoom and began to put on weight. I had a mini breakthrough with the help of my therapist, realising that I didn’t want to turn 30 in five years’ time and still be consumed by food, calories and my body.
Nevertheless, I felt disgusting, became close to tears every time I looked in the mirror, and my mood each day was dictated by the number on the scales. I spent most of lockdown hidden away in baggy dungarees and T-shirts, relieved that I didn’t have to go out and see people who would inevitably notice my weight gain.
It’s now September and, though my body still hasn’t completely recovered on the inside, I have been at a healthy weight for the last couple of months. I look normal, healthy and definitely not anorexic, though it didn’t take long because I was only undoing about two months’ worth of damage. I have started to wear more tight-fitting clothes, my mind slowly catching up with my changing body and learning to accept that I don’t need to look ill to express what’s going on inside.
This part of recovery would have been difficult at the best of times. I’ve experienced forced weight gain in hospital, as well as recovery at home in the past, but doing it this time around was made doubly painful by the government and the media’s encouragement of people to lose weight post-lockdown. While I am aware that the campaigns don’t apply to me, that doesn’t stop the surrounding narrative feeding directly into my disordered thinking. I have had to put the blinkers on to gain weight.
“Over the last few months, I’ve learnt to respect my healthy body for what it allows me to do, even when looking in the mirror makes me want to cry.”
When everything inside of you wants to see the number on the scale go down and your clothes become looser, it physically hurts when things go in the other direction. But, as I’ve been told by countless professionals over the years, it does get easier. I’ve never believed them, thinking that it’s just something people say to make me eat more, while evil laughing behind my back as I sob over the plate of pasta. I hate to admit it, but I’ve learnt that a lot of eating disorder recovery is about taking opposite actions in the hope that your brain will eventually get the memo. Over the last few months, I’ve learnt to respect my healthy body for what it allows me to do, even when looking in the mirror makes me want to cry.
Not everyone who has an eating disorder is clinically underweight, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need to gain a bit of weight to reach a comfortable BMI. If someone is restricting or purging their intake in any way, starting to eat more intuitively and ‘normally’ is likely to result in a bit of weight gain. At the same time, not everyone who gains weight healthily has an eating disorder. For example, some people who have gained weight during lockdown may have done so because they have had more time to look after themselves properly.
I know first-hand the damage that comes with celebrating when someone shrinks in size, and then condemning them for getting bigger. Neither outcome has any bearing on a person’s character or value, and both losing and gaining weight can be done in ways that improve a person’s overall health and wellbeing.
As well as weight, I have gained a social life, quality time with family, emotional wellbeing, joy, freedom and spontaneity. With all its ups and downs and complicated emotion, I have gained life.
Harriet Clifford is a freelance writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter at @hclifford29
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