As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, especially here in NYC, the last few weeks have drastically changed for all of us. I went from attending group fitness classes, in-office meetings, and dinners with friends to isolating at home, only leaving to go to the pharmacy or grocery store, and using what feels like a gallon of hand sanitizer every 15 minutes. As someone who lives with bipolar II, which includes depression, hypomania, and anxiety, the constantly changing news cycle and imminent threat of sickness has thrown my mental health into a tailspin.
As if this wasn’t enough to deal with, I’ve seen people and brands capitalize on this time of physical distancing to suggest there’s no excuse to get off track with your fitness and weight-loss goals. They emphasize how to not gain weight while being primarily at home for weeks or months at a time. Um, excuse me?
Here are things I’m actually worried about at any given moment: will my elderly and immunocompromised loved ones get sick? Will there be enough healthcare workers, medical supplies, and hospital beds to treat everyone? Will my husband still have work? Will I ever get to hug my mom again? Will small businesses survive? What about the millions of people who are suddenly unemployed? Or the millions of people who are putting their own health at risk to work the front lines of this crisis? Will the economy ever recover?
Things I’m absolutely not worried about: gaining weight. I’ve seen health and fitness publications dub weight gain during social distancing the “quarantine 15,” and it’s absolutely ridiculous with all the stress and anxiety this pandemic is creating for everyone. Gaining weight should not even be a blip on the radar of concern.
Like a lot of other people, my typical healthy schedule — seven hours of sleep, early morning gym class, homemade green smoothie, walking commute to the office — has been completely upended, and I’m instead consumed with worry. Some days I’m too anxious to eat anything all day. Other days I find comfort in a half bottle of red wine and tortilla chips for dinner. We are all doing our best; sometimes our best is waking up at 7 a.m. for a morning workout and French press coffee, and other times it’s sleeping in until 8:53 a.m. before hopping on your work computer at 9. Yes, an at-home workout schedule and set routine is important for your own overall health and well-being, and can help you find some mental solace. I’m just not there yet, and if you aren’t there either, that’s ok.
Eventually, I hope to develop healthier habits, including going to bed at a reasonable hour and waking up early enough to move my body and sweat before logging on to my computer. I hope to eat three healthy, well-balanced meals every day and maybe some snacks that aren’t Girl Scout cookies. I hope to find time to organize my closet and meditate and finally work on that book proposal I’ve been putting off.
But right now, I’m still in emotional survival mode. I’m taking it day by day, and can never be too sure what the state of my mental health is at any given hour. I’m trying to give myself grace to not beat myself up over it, and instead do the best I can under the circumstances: meet deadlines, answer emails, be communicative with my team, and not buckle under all the anxiety.
I’m begging all health and wellness publications, fitness influencers, and content creators: stop with the weight-loss plans and the “tips” to cut calories and the “tricks” to stay “on track” during a pandemic. I’m all for encouraging people to stay healthy and active, and giving them tools they need to try and take care of themselves the best they can, especially now. But focusing on weight gain, counting calories, and obsessing about our appearance in a moment where lives are literally at risk is not helping anyone — especially people like me who are susceptible to anxiety.
You should move your body because it makes you feel good and can help relieve some stress. You should absolutely not be worried about gaining weight ever, but especially not during a global pandemic. Keep doing the best you can right now — sending you a cheers with my goblet-sized wine glass.