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I just turned 45, and I’m heavier than I’ve ever been, and I’ve been “heavy” most of my life (at least in my mind). Clothes that were too big pre-pandemic are now snug. I notice an extra belly roll when I sit in Sukhasana. I’m starting to see a double chin peeking out below my extra round jawline. My (even more) ample bosom is popping out of my bra. Even my bracelets feel tighter.
To make matters worse, all the memes remind me daily that “hot girl summer” is here.
I’m not alone. According to a recent study, Americans gained an average of 2 pounds per month during lockdown, and the nation’s weight anxiety is palpable—my social feeds are overflowing with ads for diets, intermittent fasting, fitness programs, and miracle supplements.
But, before you start to shame yourself and begin the newest fad diet, take a deep breath. Here’s the good news: If you’re reading this, you survived a worldwide pandemic and you have that glorious (albeit slightly bigger) body to thank for that.
You. Are. Alive. Celebrate it!
Not feeling festive? I recently chatted with dietician and certified intuitive eating coach Christy Harrison, author of Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, and Well-Being through Intuitive Eating about how to feel better in your body right now.
The culture is F’d up. Not you, beautiful.
“We do live in ‘diet culture,’ which demonizes weight gain and promotes weight loss as the ticket to better health, well-being, and success. So, I think that a lot of people are wrestling that stigma that comes from diet culture,” said Harrison. “I want to reinforce the idea that weight gain is not bad. It’s understandable that we gained weight during a pandemic. This is an unprecedentedly stressful time.”
Diet culture worships thinness and promotes the idea that a slim body is the gateway to higher status in society. This culture is the water we swim in every day, so it can be extremely difficult to separate your desire for a thin body from the messages that come from your family, friends, workplace, and media. Belonging and acceptance by society are intrinsically tied to a thin body, while being overweight or fat is synonymous with ostracization and exclusion. Hence, putting on weight is scary as hell. And losing it can literally feel like a matter of life or death.
But, help is on the way. These tips gleaned from Harrison—and my own experience—can help you navigate diet culture and the post-pandemic world in a larger body.
Buy new pants
Looking for a surefire way to feel uncomfortable and hyper aware of your body all day? Squeeze into too-tight clothes.
Nope. Put that old size away and buy some new items that actually fit and make you feel good. I know this can be scary, especially if you’re already at the top of the “straight size” spectrum and are transitioning to plus-size brands or brands with more inclusive sizing. But, here’s a little secret: nobody knows what size you’re wearing.
If you’re hoping to lose the extra pounds and are worried about investing in new clothes, try the Fit Liberty program at Universal Standard—one of my all-time fave brands which carries sizes 00 to 40. If your size changes, you can exchange for a different one within one year of purchase.
Stop following social media accounts that make you feel like sh#t
As the old adage goes: You can’t be what you can’t see. So it might be time to trade Kim Kardashian and Gigi Hadid for some kick-ass, confident, body-positive influencers that actually look like you. “If you’re on social media, follow people in the body acceptance movement—larger-bodied people living fun and fabulous lives,” says Harrison. In fact, two studies have shown that exposure to diverse body types can help improve body image.
So, give it a try! Here are some influencers I love:
- Meg Boggs
- Gabi Fresh
- Virgie Tovar
- Megan Jayne Crabbe
- Ragen Chastain
- Katie Sturino
- Jessamyn Stanley
- Unlikely Hikers
Notice negative self talk and replace with positive messages
You’re never going to feel good in your body if you’re constantly beating yourself up. Pay attention to what you say to yourself when you get dressed, look in the mirror, and go to the grocery store. When I started tuning in, I noticed that I was often saying horrible things like: “nobody likes you” and “nobody is ever going to love you.” These crazy and cruel messages seemed to play on an endless loop in my unconscious mind.
Here’s a simple trick to help you reprogram your thoughts: Every time you pass by your mirror or a reflection in a window, wink and say “Hi, beautiful.” Or if that feels like too much, simply smile at what you see. Start adding affirmations to your yoga or meditation session. I like to say them to myself at the end of my daily practice. Here are some of my favorites:
- I love and approve of myself (from author Louise Hay)
- I love myself therefore I recognize that my body is my best friend (from my coach Tara-Nicholle Nelson)
- I choose to nourish my soul and my body (from yours truly)
Make friends with the summer heat
Summer and I are frenemies at best. I abhor being hot and sweaty. As a lifelong downhill skier who lives in Colorado, I spend a lot of time outside in the snow. I also prefer fall and winter wardrobes: hats, sweaters, jeans, boots, and lots of layers. One way I’ve warmed up to my bigger body is by caring for my summer skin so it feels comfortable and cool in tank tops and sundresses—”boob sweat” and “chub rub” included. I love the MegaBabe Beauty line created by plus-size influencer Katie Sturino. The brand’s Thigh Rescue and Bust Dust absorb sweat and fight chafing on sweltering summer days.
Here’s the author, learning to love summer:
Don’t start dieting
“Don’t rush out and do something to change [your body],” said Harrison. “Learning to push back against the forces of diet culture and being resilient to them is going to serve you far better than dieting ever could.”
Despite the U.S. weight loss market being valued at $78 billion in 2019, it’s been proven over and over again that diets don’t work for 95 percent of people long-term. That’s one hell of a failure rate. In fact, you’re more likely to damage your metabolism through weight-cycling and eventually weigh more than what you weighed before the diet. Instead, give yourself compassion and allow time for your life to normalize again post-pandemic. Once you get back into your old routine, you may start to drop pounds naturally. And if you don’t, that’s fine, too.
Do move your body
Many of us have had a pretty sedentary year, thanks to work-from-home life and gyms and yoga studios being closed. So, it can feel really daunting to get back to your pre-pandemic routine—especially at a larger size. But exercise has so many benefits besides losing weight. Try not to view it as merely a punishment for your “bad” body and instead as a part of your self-care practice. Here are some of the amazing things exercise can do:
- Boost your mood and reduces stress
- Increase energy
- Help you sleep
- Keep your brain healthy and improve memory
- Strengthen bones
- Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease
In short, move because it feels good. Just remember: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Start slow and build up your fitness level in a sustainable way so you don’t get injured.
Advocate for yourself at the doctor’s office
Confession: I haven’t had a checkup in well over a year. Why? I know I’ve gained weight, and I’m afraid to be weighed.
If you’re overweight like me, you have been told to lose weight for nearly every health problem that you’ve ever experienced, and the feeling of shame is immense. But guess what I’ve learned by following plus-size influencers on Instagram? You can decline to be weighed. (Mind blown!)
“Unless it’s a medical necessity, like you’re going into surgery and getting anesthesia…there’s almost no medical conditions that actually require your weight,” says Harrison. “A lot of my clients and colleagues and I will usually say, ‘I don’t do the scale.’ And if they push me on it, I say, ‘You can just write refused.’”
You can also seek out medical professionals that practice “Health At Any Size (HAES),” which is a weight-neutral approach to providing health care. This means that even if you’re “overweight” or “obese” by traditional Western medical standards, you can get healthcare without being prescribed weight loss for every single physical ailment. Search for HAES providers in your community here.
Lean on your practice to nurture self-compassion
“One of the teachings of yoga that has resonated so deeply with me is self-compassion and non-competitiveness,” says Harrison. “Not pushing yourself to do the physical poses the way your neighbor to the left or right is doing them.”
Meditation and deep breathing can also help you find comfort and safety in your body. Treat yourself gently and tenderly as you re-enter social situations or environments that may provoke anxiety. And remember: Those around you are probably struggling with their own insecurities, so it’s always a good idea to extend some of that compassion to others, as well.
Here are some self-compassion practices that you can get started with today:
- Find Serenity with this Self-Compassion Sequence
- Tara Brach’s Meditation for Self-Compassion
- A Supported Sequence for Self-Compassion
- “I Am Enough”: A Heart-Centered Meditation for Gratitude & Self-Love
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