Opinion | Your Body Survived a Pandemic. Don’t Punish It With Diet Fads.

Video by Tala Schlossberg


Your Body Survived a Pandemic. Don’t Punish It With Diet Fads.

Don’t let the weight-loss industry shame you into thinking “back to normal” means a return to intermittent fasting and appetite suppressant lollipops.

A year of pandemic living has changed us. It’s changed how we work, how we spend our time and what we value in life. It’s also changed our bodies, even for those of us who never got sick. A lot of us are coming out of this looking a little different than before. According to the American Psychological Association, more than 40 percent of us have gained weight that we didn’t want to, which makes sense. For many people, healthy routines have taken a back seat to more pressing concerns, like waiting out quarantine while lying on the couch. Cue the diet industry, which smells an opportunity. “Putting on the quarantine 15.” “How to prep your postpandemic body.” We’re being bombarded with ads telling us to fix the damage. “Don’t let 2020 get the best of you.” Media outlets that make us feel guilty for surviving. “No wonder people are packing on the pounds now.” “Spring is a great time to try to get this back on track.” “How to get that unwanted weight off.” Celebrities sharing their struggles. “Gwyneth admitted that she gained 14 pounds on wine, pasta, cheese and crackers.” And then hawking us meal kits. All so we can look like we spent the last year on a restorative spa vacation instead of cooped up at home during a global health crisis. The purpose of these messages is to make us worry about our bodies and how we look. In the process, it propagates the old myth that the most important thing about our health is our weight. And they’ve been doing this for decades. “Control your appetite.” “Lose excess weight naturally.” “Put it on to take weight off.” “Honey, what will these calories do to my waistline?” But we’re especially vulnerable to this idea right now when we’re just starting to socialize in person again. But what the American dieting industry doesn’t want you to know is the number on the scale probably doesn’t matter that much. Putting on some weight during the pandemic or any other time doesn’t mean you’re unhealthy. And it doesn’t mean you’re lazy, undisciplined or out of control. Weight fluctuations can be a natural response to lifestyle changes. Had any of those in the last year? The C.D.C. maintains that weight is not a reliable measure of health. And even when a person’s weight is a health problem, it’s been shown that in the long term, diets usually fail. And more importantly, that shaming people for their weight just doesn’t work. “Peloton, come on. Let’s get this workout started.” “SlimFast advanced smoothies.” But even in the face of a pandemic, the $70 billion weight loss industry soldiers on. And though their messages are cloaked in terms of health and wellness, its real effect is to make us feel worse than ever about ourselves. So we’ll buy products we don’t need. “Apple cider vinegar and gummies.” “Five best weight loss pills in 2020.” “Atkins 100 Eating Solution.” “Appetite suppressant lollipop.” It doesn’t have to be this way. Right now we have a choice. To keep taking orders from an industry that feeds off our sense of inadequacy or to gain some perspective from this pandemic year. Because living through a pandemic is enough of an achievement for our bodies. It’s natural if they’ve changed in the meantime. Bodies are resilient. They grow and shrink and stretch and age. And that doesn’t mean we have to measure up to some arbitrary ideal. In many ways, it’s better if we don’t.

As the pandemic has raged, we have been told to sequester ourselves to stay well and safeguard others. For many of us, that has meant living a more housebound life than normal.

We have developed an intimate familiarity with the textures of our couch. We have grown deeply attached to the softest items in our wardrobe. We have pounded vitamin D supplements to compensate for our vampiric relationship to the sun.

Now as we slowly emerge from our collective hibernation, it’s unsurprising that many of our bodies have changed.

But where we might see new curves, the $70 billion-a-year American weight-loss industry sees only profit. And so the dieting hustlers and charlatans have been pelting us with offers of products and routines that promise to strip us of the “quarantine 15” (while stripping us of our cash).

As we show in the Opinion video above, those opportunists are simply preying on our insecurities at a particularly vulnerable time as we re-emerge into society and propagating the age-old myth that weight is the best measure of someone’s health.

If there was ever a time that we should be kind to ourselves and to others — especially about our bodies — that would be now. You’ve been living through a pandemic and doing your part to end it. That’s reason to feel good.

Tala Schlossberg (@TalaSchlossberg) is a producer and animator with Opinion Video.

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