3 Ways to Improve Your Relationship With Food During COVID

How to cope with food and body image struggles during the pandemic.

Posted May 20, 2020

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Gordon, a psychologist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders and associate therapist at Conason Psychological Services.

In the midst of an international health crisis, the likes of which we have never experienced in our lifetimes, many of us have been gripped by fears about our health (will my loved ones and I survive the coronavirus?), the economy (am I going to lose my job?) and—yes, you guessed it—weight gain.

During a time when our lives are filled with more unpredictability than ever before, it may be easier to focus on food and our bodies than it is to focus on the uncertainties of the world at large.

As a society, we mistakenly equate thinness with wellness and weight gain with laziness. Diet culture serves to keep us focused on our bodies, striving to keep ourselves small. The fatphobic #covid15 memes that we see running rampant on social media remind us that, even during a global pandemic, we cannot let our bodies get out of control. We are commanded to monitor our food intake, participate in online workout routines, and certainly not allow ourselves to “indulge.” It can be difficult not to internalize the ever-present messages about the virtues of weight loss.

Being in quarantine has changed the way many of us eat. In an effort to minimize trips to the grocery store, those of us who are privileged to do so may have access to larger amounts of food at home than we typically do. Restaurants and gyms are closed, supermarkets are running out of stock more quickly than usual, and we may find ourselves with more time on our hands to cook and bake. For many, especially those with eating disorders, coping with these new realities can be highly anxiety-provoking. And with diet culture breathing down our throats, it can be easy to become obsessive about how this “new normal” could affect our bodies.

As an eating disorder therapist who is privy to the intense suffering of people who hate their bodies, I dare to imagine a world in which we could use this stressful time to connect with ourselves by eating food that is enjoyable. What if we were allowed to eat what our bodies craved and didn’t feel guilt when we experienced pleasure? What if we could move our bodies with joy, free from judgment? What if we were not constantly made to feel that our bodies are bad?

With those ideas in mind, I would like to offer three suggestions to improve your relationship with food and your body during the quarantine:

  1. Give yourself permission. Your body needs food, and food can be a source of pleasure and comfort. You never need to feel guilty for giving your body—and mind—the fuel it needs to survive, and what you eat is not a comment on your character. You deserve pleasure, and you deserve freedom!
  2. Practice self-compassion. How do you talk to yourself—about your body, about what you eat, about the type of person you are? Before making a negative comment to yourself, ask yourself if it’s something you would say to a loved one. Make a conscious effort to speak to yourself the same way you would speak to others.
  3. Engage in joyful movement. If your body is craving it, get some fresh air (if it’s safe for you to do so) and go for a walk. Do some stretching or a gentle yoga class, or dance to your favorite music. And if your body is craving stillness, listen to that too! Whatever you do, make sure it’s with the intention of connecting to your body and in a gentle spirit of self-compassion.