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Guest Post: The "Quarantine 15" is No Joke

Ronni Robinson joins gilagreenwrites today with an important post about the pandemic and overeating. I'm sure many of you will find the information valuable and please forward to anyone you think might be benefit from reading it.

Bio: 

Ronni is a Sandwich Generation member; she's the tired lunch meat layered between two kids in college and aging parents. She has been an endurance athlete for over 20 years, is a 3-time Ironman finisher, and is a certified spin instructor. Her passion is helping those who are struggling with eating disorders. Her book, Out of the Pantry: A Disordered Eating Journey, was released August 6, 2020. 

The "Quarantine 15" is No Joke

By Ronni Robinson

It's been close to a year now that all our lives have changed because of the pandemic. People are spending more time at home than they have in their lives. Due to all the stress involved with restrictions and staying in, we've all sought out doing things that will bring us some mental comfort.

Healthy ways of coping are exercising, going for walks, and working on projects. However, some have turned to drink, others to drugs. Many have turned to overeating to try to cope with their feelings and have consequently gained weight. Unfortunately, as has historically been the case with making fun of people's weight, many "Quarantine 15" have been created and spread over social media over the months. These weight gain jokes and memes – not funny.

During the stressful and anxiety-ridden, shelter-in-place times, I understand that a lot of people turn to food for comfort. It's easy, it's available, and it's legal. Making memes and jokes about eating and subsequent weight gain help make you feel better, less alone. I get that.

But for anyone already struggling with an eating disorder, whether it's anorexia, binge eating, or bulimia, those "jokes" are triggering. They can throw off someone's hard work in recovery or be torture for someone who is already struggling.

It's the same for all the wine memes and jokes for recovering alcoholics. I get it, but not funny for the person tackling recovery from alcoholism and the hell it's brought to them and their family.

"We have been living with COVID-19 since March of last year and are currently in a "wait and see" with vaccines being distributed. We've had a bit more freedom this summer, but life is far from normal. Now, in these cooler months, I'm hearing the dread return: endless winter months stuck back in the house with very little to do," said Heidi Dalzell, Psy.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist.

To those struggling with overeating food with or without the pandemic, I see you.

I know how hard this is.

I was a compulsive overeater/binge eater/emotional eater/food addict for 30 years. I'm now 13 years recovered. During those three decades, I was on a rollercoaster of being obese and an average weight. Let me tell you, an eating disorder sucks.

Much like an alcoholic or drug addict, a disordered eating person is always thinking about food – what will they eat next, where will they get it, how can they get it, how will they eat it without anyone knowing. It's a shameful, embarrassing, isolating life.

"Since the pandemic has started, I've seen a number of memes and commentary on the COVID-15: all the weight people are expecting to gain due to being at home and comforting themselves, "Dalzell said. "While these memes can feel funny, for people with eating disorders they externally reinforce a person's inner sense of shame. The result: even more overeating. It's a vicious cycle."

There is nothing wrong with gaining weight or being overweight if you are happy and healthy in your body. But jokes about weight gain are not funny to people struggling with an eating disorder, a disease, or a mental illness.

People flippantly say to someone who has a food addiction – stop eating. That works as well as someone telling an alcoholic to stop drinking or telling a drug addict to stop taking drugs. It doesn't work that way. Anyone with an addiction needs help. Their brains have been wired wrong, more often than not from childhood trauma, and only a professional can help them unwire and re-wire healthily.

Taking the "Quarantine 15" a step further, all these people who are newly starving themselves or emotionally or compulsively stuffing their faces to try to cope with the pandemic… after months of this, these habits may quickly become ingrained. Now they have gone through their trauma and need professional help to stop excessive eating. It's no so funny now.

Dalzell explained, "What many people fail to appreciate is that COVID has been a national trauma. When we are not dealing with trauma, our natural states are balanced and emotionally regulated, which means that our emotions are much more even. When under trauma, we often go into fight/flight mode, feeling overwhelmed and anxious, perfect breeding grounds for addictive behaviors."

Whether you are turning to food or not, I can guarantee you that some of your friends and family are.

Some are doing it in secret, while others are being open about it. They are honest about it because they want to find others doing the same to feel more normal about their behavior.

Turning to large amounts of food for comfort can very easily slide into being their norm. Some may be starving themselves as a way to control their out-of-control environment around them. Using food to gain control becomes how they handle life during these stressful times, and as someone who has been there, let me assure you that it's not easy to break the cycle.

I predict that once this pandemic is truly gone, many people are going to have weight problems. They will try every diet under the sun to lose weight, but it's not about the diet. It's never about the diet. The hard truth is that living through this crazy COVID-19 time in our history is traumatic. Trauma re-wires your brain and coping mechanisms. Disordered eaters will need professional help in the form of therapy to understand the trauma, understand the coping mechanism, and relearn healthier coping mechanisms.

"Many of us are prone to self-comfort and soothing by turning to food. Food is actually a great (but ultimately unhealthy) way to cope with hard emotions. While it's normal to overeat at times, using food to numb on a consistent basis becomes an addictive behavior that's hard to beat," Dalzell said. "Most people recognize that they are using food for something other than nourishment, and overeating can lead to it's own set of hard emotions. Foremost: shame."

If someone you know is turning to food to cope, either starving themselves or bingeing, I urge you to bring up the topic gently. Convey that you understand how hard it is to cope with the pandemic and let them know there are many resources out there in the form of online support groups, telemed with therapists, and Overeaters Anonymous phone meetings to help them with their feelings.

People can end up hospitalized from starving or from obesity. With COVID, we don't want anyone in the hospital if we can help it. Furthermore, obesity is also a condition that can make COVID symptoms worse, so constant bingeing is a slippery road for sure.

Coronavirus is no joke. An eating disorder is no joke. While the virus has killed hundreds of thousands of people, roughly 30 million people* suffer from eating disorders. Neither of these problems should be the butt of jokes, as memes can be triggers for people who are suffering.

Going through this pandemic, with lockdowns, quarantines, and all of the reasonable fear, frustration, loneliness, feelings of being lost are all traumas. Traumas can birth eating disorders or other unhealthy addictions or coping mechanisms. Much better ways to cope with pandemic life are meditating, long walks, home projects, exercise, reading, and other forms of self-care. Unfortunately, many are turning to food, which will lead to physical health problems to go along with mental health issues brought on by the pandemic.

* https://health.usnews.com/conditions/eating-disorder/articles/eating-disorder-statistics

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