Quarantine Stress Will Probably Cause Your Body to Change and That’s OK
“We have no control over the future, so it is unsurprising that many would focus on food and weight as a way to manage their fears around uncertainty. It gives us a false sense of reassurance that all is OK if we focus on a certain way of eating or moving our bodies to control our weight,” Carolina Guizar, registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor, tells Allure.
A lot, if not most, of us learn to police our bodies from the time we are kids. We are taught about the value of “good skin,” “nice teeth,” “small waists,” and “luscious locks.” In a way, policing our bodies is so “normal” that we inevitably cling onto that behavior when we feel uncertain or afraid in other areas of our lives.
Dietician, nutritionist, and counselor Nathan Baldwin agrees. “I think [these anxieties about our bodies] all come back to the natural feeling we all crave, which is safety,” he explains. “This pandemic has created so much uncertainty with work, finances, food, health, relationships, and much more. When people feel unsafe — or how most [of my] clients tend to phrase it, ‘out of control’ — often the first thing many people turn to for a sense of control is their weight and food restriction.”
For many of us, our weight is typically the prime focus of our body-related insecurities or struggles. For some, it might be our wrinkles. For others, like my neighbor, it could be our gray hairs. In a culture that thrives off perpetuating the notion that these characteristics are “flaws,” it makes sense that we’d often end up feeling the same way. It also makes sense that the pandemic, and the changes to our routines it has bred, would bring a lot of these things to the surface.
As Lindo Bacon, who has a PhD in physiology and is a researcher, author, and advocate for Health at Every Size (HAES) and social justice, tells Allure, “We all need coping mechanisms to get through stressful times, and it’s inevitable that these stressful times are triggering people who already struggle with food and weight anxiety [in particular]. With a lower trigger point, the extra stress will also push people with lower-level tendencies towards food and weight anxiety over the edge. For everyone, food is an easy source of comfort to reach for, particularly as our usual options for comfort become less available.”
Given the circumstances, it’s understandable that many of us would be feeling pushed to that edge. Troublesome as this may be, worrying about our bodies is one of the few facets of “regular” life that we’re able to bring into quarantine with us.
It’s totally normal if stress and changes in routine affect your body
Stress (which many of us are undoubtedly feeling at the moment) can affect the body in countless ways — and quite literally from head to toe. According to a diagram outlined in Healthline, rising levels in stress can cause headaches, increased depression, heartburn, high blood sugar, fertility struggles, missed periods, and tense muscles, among other symptoms.
“Stress can have a large impact on mental and physical wellbeing,” adds Baldwin. “It impacts things like mood, sleep, coping mechanisms, resources available to us. When these variables are altered, stress can often lead to different behaviors and weight gain.”
According to Guizar, the effects of stress on the body are more internal than external; but because shifts in stress levels and anxiety might change our day-to-day behaviors (like how much we’re eating, sleeping, or drinking), our appearances might change as a result. “Some people may experience an increase in hunger, while others experience a decrease,” she explains. “Some may feel an urge to drink more alcohol. Some people will need to numb and distract themselves from the distress, while others may find themselves attracted to schedules and feel a need to be productive […] Everyone will cope differently and there is no wrong way to do it.”