COVID-19? How about we discuss the ‘COVID-15’?

Posted 9/4/20

If I could count on my fingers how many times someone joked about coronavirus weight gain, I would give up and chop my fingers off.

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COVID-19? How about we discuss the ‘COVID-15’?

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If I could count on my fingers how many times someone joked about coronavirus weight gain, I would give up and chop my fingers off. These days, the notorious “Freshman 15” has seemingly been replaced by the “COVID-15.”

Weight changes during this pandemic are exceedingly normal. In fact, 27 percent of residents surveyed by the Chatham County Health Department said that they have exercised less than usual since the beginning of the pandemic. Gyms remain closed, nature trails get overcrowded and Jazzercise-esque videos become boring. Our schedules have been disrupted, which means we’re not eating the same meals that we used to.

Now that we are slowly going back into society, our work pants might not fit the same way they used to. We might not recognize our reflections in store windows. This is understandably upsetting.

It has been five years since I struggled with an eating disorder, and I take immense pride in being an advocate and ally. That’s why I was surprised when many of my negative thought pattens surrounding food and exercise returned with a vengeance during the pandemic. I found myself silently comparing how I looked to others on Zoom calls and virtual yoga classes. I felt the many years of building up confidence in my appearance slowly slipping away.

The first study on the early impact of COVID-19 on individuals with self-reported eating disorders shows that this pandemic has had wide-ranging negative effects on thought patterns and behaviors. Since one in five people struggle with disordered eating, it’s likely that you or someone you know is currently dealing with changes like these.

“It’s just a joke,” we say when talking about the COVID-15. And yes — for many, commenting about the calorie content of our sandwiches does not stop us from eating them. But the comment can have lasting effects. Maybe you didn’t order the dish you wanted because your friend joked about it. Maybe you pondered the calories in other foods at home. Maybe you wondered if others think you’re too skinny, or too fat, or too out of shape. So I say the following:

1. We must ensure our words are coming from a healthy place before we say them. Say how great the food tastes instead of how many miles we must run because we ate it. To not laugh at body shaming but clearly, confidently say it is wrong.

2. Do not wait for a diagnosis to seek help. See the resources below for helplines, forums, and virtual support groups.

3. If you hear a friend or family member joking about their own weight gain or loss, it could be they’re hinting that something is wrong. It’s often hard to distinguish self-deprecation from hidden truths.

As for me, I plan to start focusing on other 15-related feats, like playing 15 hours of Tetris or buying 15 dollars’ worth of toys my dog won’t fetch. Here are some resources for those who are struggling:

Rachel Horowitz resides in Chatham County and works in Pittsboro. She is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.


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