Your Body Changed During the Pandemic and That’s Okay

body changes
Your body changing is normal, especially during a global pandemic. Illustration by Melanie Lo.

As the world relaxes its COVID restrictions, hot vax summer draws nigh but not everyone is excited. There are those of us who are anxious, hesitant and scared because we might not look the same as we did before the pandemic. 

Do my jeans even fit anymore? Did I grow another chin? I think I lost all the definition in my calves from not walking to the bus stop.

It’s evident by the over 19.2 million views on TikTok of the hashtag quarantineweightgain that this is a universally felt fear. We asked our readers and 73% said they felt like quarantine negatively impacted their body image and weight. Similarly, 72% also said they feel more self-conscious about their bodies now that quarantine is ending.

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Your feelings are valid and changes are normal

Let’s make one thing clear: it is perfectly okay if you gained weight. You survived over a year of a global pandemic. We had to deal with so many stressors that we don’t give ourselves enough credit for. Most of our entire lives changed in a matter of days and those of us who were active were forced to become sedentary. We had to deal with so much grief; grief for our loved ones, grief for the lives we were accustomed to, grief for our jobs and safety. Unfortunately, for many Asian Americans, we not only feared for our health because of COVID-19 but also for our physical safety and belonging due to the rise of anti-Asian violence.

“A lot of people shared that they previously went outside for walks or runs but now as Asian Americans they felt scared to leave their homes. They lost the routines and habits that kept their body healthy,” Dr. Jenny Wang, @asiansformentalhealth, told NextShark. 

When the body is under a lot of stress, it is impacted both mentally and physically. It’s not abnormal to consciously or unconsciously cope with difficult situations by eating more or spend more time watching Netflix and TikToks. To be honest, since we had to avoid being outside, many of us were unable to do much else let alone be physically active. There have also been numerous reports of people having trouble sleeping or experiencing more nightmares during the pandemic. 

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“There are biological responses in terms of stress that impact how the body manages and metabolizes its resources,” Dr. Wang explained. “Stress impacts sleep and when we don’t sleep there are hormones that promote weight gain.”

Even if our bodies haven’t gone through drastic changes, the anxiety of showing parts of ourselves that we haven’t really been focusing on for the last year can feel overwhelming. Many of us were bound to Zoom and Teams for school and work, and we grew accustomed to people only ever seeing our heads and a sliver of our upper shoulders. 

“It’s possible that your body hasn’t even changed at all, but this idea of now revealing your full body can be anxiety provoking as you are more conscious of how you want to present yourself,” commented Dr. Wang. 

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What can we do to alleviate negative body image issues?

Treat yourself with kindness and tenderness. We have carried so much stress, so much burden and fear for so long, we need to recognize how much emotional and physical labor we have been doing. 

“What has your body carried you through in this last year and a half? Acknowledge those benefits, attributes, and honor the body,” Dr. Wang advised. 

“So much of negative body issues is fixation on the parts we don’t love and we fail to see that our body offers us so much.”

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If you are looking to lose weight or to get back in shape, Dr. Wang advised building a lifestyle that centers on the value of being healthy instead of focusing on metrics. 

“Don’t focus on the type of clothing you want to fit back into, but rather what is a healthy lifestyle to you and what specific behaviors you would have to change in order to get there.”

Fitness guru, Cassey Ho of Blogilates also shared her advice for those of us struggling with our body image now.

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“Your body is always on a journey,” Ho reminds us. “You can always set a new goal, and have fun making progress towards it. Find your ‘why’ and work towards it by doing workouts and eating nourishing foods that bring you joy.”

Ho also emphasized the importance of surrounding yourself with supportive, non-toxic people. 

“I feel invincible when I have people cheering me on.” 

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If you feel that your negative thoughts about your body or weight are affecting your ability to function or feel confident enough to go out, please consider seeking help from a mental health professional who can further support you. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and it’s something that we can work on and maintain. 

How to deal with anxiety as we return back to “normal”

As with most things, taking the first step can be the hardest. Dr. Wang suggested taking things slow and setting boundaries on how much you’re going out and who with.

“Give yourself space to ramp back up to what we used to be. It may be a period of practice in terms of being out in society again. Set boundaries about how long, how often, and who with. Maybe in the beginning if you have anxiety, try going out with really safe people. People who would not judge you for how you show up.” 

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Boundaries to set to help when feeling anxious about going out:

  • People — Be conscious about who you’re making plans with. Surround yourself with people who make you feel supported and at ease.
  • Location — Go places where you can easily leave if you must. This may mean holding off on a five-day cruise or camping trip if you’re anxious about being away from home. 
  • Time — You can ease back into going out with time limits. For example, only going out for a few hours or setting your own curfew to head home. 

There is no shame in feeling anxious or unprepared about going out again as the post-pandemic world reopens. Remember to be kind to yourself, and that your mental and physical health are always something you can work on. 

You are so much stronger than you might think, and you have survived more than you might recognize. 

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Featured Image by Melanie Lo

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