I went for a walk the other day. Something in the window caught my eye: my reflection. I can’t say for sure, but I’m beginning to strongly suspect there is a little more of me than there was at the start of March. Perhaps not coincidentally, it seems like every few days I have to stack yet another book under my laptop to avoid seeing a double chin staring back at me during video calls.
I cannot say I am surprised. I’ve been working from home and practicing expert-level social distancing for almost two months now. Everything about my life and my routine has changed. That my body is changing too isn’t a surprise _ or a bad thing.
The memes about gaining the Quarantine 15 or the COVID-20 spread faster than a germ on a doorknob when we all headed home in March. The articles are rolling in about managing stress eating and workout routines to do from home. My inbox is stuffed with lurid marketing blasts from diets (sorry, “wellness routines”) I’ve tried in the past, letting me know I can join again now for half off.
I have been doing yoga at home but scrolling past YouTube’s litany of “power core flow” and “total body vinyasa” routines in favor of slow, gentle, stress-relieving stretches. And I have been blissfully, gleefully throwing off the shackles of worrying about what I eat or how much I ate or whether I’ve made it to spin class recently.
I’ve almost perfected my chocolate-chip banana bread recipe. I’m a proud member of the quarantine bread-baking legion. Almost every day I eat the same thing for lunch: two thick, heavily buttered slices of toasted homemade bread, used to mop up barely-set sunny-side-up eggs. I feel like a French monarch summering at my pastoral country estate.
I certainly haven’t stepped on a scale recently, but I’m pretty sure I’ve gained a little weight. And I couldn’t be more thrilled about it.
In fact, I’m grateful. If the worst thing that comes out of all of this for me is that I have to buy new pants, I will weep with gratitude.
I’m fortunate about a lot of things. Gaining weight means you have enough food to eat. My husband and I still have our jobs. We have grocery stores nearby that we can go to and buy whatever we need, plus some more that we want, with enough money left over to donate to our local food bank.
So far we’ve stayed healthy. So have my parents, my in-laws, my cousins, my uncles and aunts. My 96-year-old grandmother lives in a place that barred outside visitors weeks ago. She’s not just staying healthy; she’s keeping up her demanding bridge game schedule.
Two of my sisters were with my parents on a spring break vacation when their school closed. Now, they’re all home together in Chicago. I wish I could hug them, but I’m glad they’re together and OK.
My other sister is a doctor. She works in an emergency room in New York City. So far she’s healthy and feeling good. She told me she appreciates the outpouring of support and gratitude for her and her co-workers but that it feels a little weird to be thanked so much. This is what she wants to be doing. It’s her job.
I’m safe and I’m healthy. I have my little apartment with my husband and my small, elderly dog here with me. Right now, that feels like a damn miracle.
Both time and my eating habits have taken on the meandering characteristics of those run-on days between Christmas and New Year’s. Everyone is the most stressed-out they have ever been in their lives. Enjoy your snacks. It’s OK to have some comfort food at a time when we could all stand to be comforted a little bit.
I decided to ask a couple of experts whether gaining a little extra protective coating will permanently ruin my health. The short answer: no. While obesity can be a contributing factor to worse outcomes for coronavirus patients, most people are not going to go from a healthy weight to obese just by eating more snacks for a couple of months, said Whitney Catalano, a registered dietician who lives in L.A.’s Palms neighborhood.
“On average, weight gain during lockdown is not necessarily as prominent or notable or concern-worthy as a lot of people make it out to be,” she said. Most of us will see the scale go back to mostly normal once our lives do. “In the scheme of things, being at home, not exercising as much, eating a lot more comfort food, spending time on the couch watching Netflix … it may feel like a lot of weight but in reality it’s just a little bit of stress and lifestyle weight.”
The data don’t support a quarantine-induced diet frenzy either: The maker of a popular internet-connected scale showed that among 450,000 American users who weighed themselves before and after stay-at-home orders began, the average weight gain was a scant 0.21 pounds.
If you’re stressed about your health, direct that anxiety toward something more productive than counting calories. Samantha Cassetty, a registered dietitian based in New York City, walked me through some of the ideas she presented in her piece about healthy quarantine habits for the “Today” show: Move your body in whatever way feels good to you, not punishing. Get enough sleep. Try deep breathing and meditation.
Practice positive self-talk and be grateful, not critical, for what your body is doing right now. Eat fruits and vegetables _ ones that come from cans or the freezer still count.
And if some nights the only thing you have enough ingredients or wherewithal to make is mac and cheese, God bless. Maybe put half a bag of frozen broccoli in there. Or not.
“Don’t worry about a few pounds, and remove the worry about the weight itself and focus on things that might be more compassionate ways to think about your health,” Cassetty said. “Slightly tighter jeans is not a massive weight gain.”
My overindulging will not end when social distancing does. Restaurants may have to limit patrons or have servers wear masks or take our temperatures when we come in. That is all absolutely fine by me. I am setting money aside specifically to attempt to singlehandedly revive our great city’s bar and restaurant scene, on top of the jaw- and waistline-popping amount of takeout I’ve ordered in recent weeks.
In the meantime, I’ve already purchased a pair of “business sweatpants” to ease my transition back to appearing in the workplace. I’m contemplating taking a nice, long drive to Malibu specifically to hurtle the belts languishing in my closet out my car window into the ocean off PCH.
Frankly, I’m appreciating a little break from caring so much about my appearance. This is Los Angeles. The way you look matters, at least when there’s not a global pandemic to contend with. I get it. I’m on a first-name basis with the lovely woman who does my eyebrows. (Michelle, if you are reading this, I miss you.) I need a gel dip manicure and pedicure more desperately right now than I ever have in my adult life. I have had a subscription to one of those places that shoots lasers into your face to make your skin look better. Before the coronavirus struck, I belonged to two gyms. Giving the ever-present pressure to look a certain way a couple months off really isn’t the end of the world. It’s kind of nice.
When they fling open the doors to the gyms and fitness centers once again, we can flood them like every day is the first Monday after New Year’s. I do plan on going back to the gym (I miss my spin class instructor too) but I think I’ll keep baking bread. I’m getting kind of good at it.
Someday, hopefully someday soon, though not too soon, most of us will stumble bleary-eyed back into the streets, unwaxed, undyed, ungroomed. I’ll be a little paler and a little pudgier. The next time I can go to the beach. I’ll run straight into the waves, my bikini strings straining a bit more than usual.
And I will have precisely one thought in my head: I’m so grateful to be here.