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Training, Fueling, Fitness, and Body Image During COVID19

This started as a blog on “how to keep training during quarantine”. Which is an important topic, especially because it seems as though this is how life is going to be for the time being. But as I was writing, this is what came out instead.  There are questions I need to answer, thought patterns I need to shed light on, and reassurance that needs to be given….so here it is.

“Training looks different for me now and I’m scared I’m going to gain the “COVID-19 Pounds that everyone keeps joking about”

I have several responses to that.  For one, it goes without saying that if the worst thing that happens to you during this pandemic is that you pack on a few extra pounds, consider yourself very lucky. I would much rather gain weight than get sick and die, or see my loved ones get sick and die.  I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t truly feel that way deep down. In the grand scheme of things, this is an incredibly scary and unprecedented time, and if you need an extra snack or two to cope with it? There’s nothing wrong with that. No one is judging.

That being said, being worried about your weight and fitness when your entire routine has been upended by the universe does not make you a bad person. If you are a female of any age, any background, any shape, size, activity level – you’ve had diet culture forced down your throat since the day you were born. You’ve most likely been made to feel, your whole life, that your body is inadequate and that it must be small to be “worthy”. We all have. I don’t know a single woman who’s somehow escaped that message. Men too, for that matter. If you find yourself freaking out a little extra about your weight, it doesn’t make you selfish and uncaring about the rest of the world – you literally can’t help it because this is what you’ve been taught by society to value. Regardless of whether you got that message from a magazine, a movie, your mom, or your coach – it’s ingrained.

For individuals with eating disorder history, this is also an especially difficult time because many eating disorders are a form of control.  There’s a LOT of things we don’t have control over right now, and it is terrifying. When the rest of your life is scary, uncomfortable, and inconsistent, focusing in on your body and food intake is a way to cope and feel like you have control over SOMETHING.  Is it a healthy coping mechanism? NO, of course not – but it is effective. If you’ve fallen into this kind of pattern when stressed over midterms, deciding on a university to attend, going through a divorce or a death or a marriage…then a global pandemic is most certainly going to trigger you too, and that’s not your fault.

If this is you, I suggest forgiving yourself, showing yourself some extra love, and meeting virtually with a therapist who can help you get through this time.

On the opposite side of the coin:

It is also totally okay to continue caring about your health and fitness during this pandemic! And in that regard, I am pleased to report that the laws of physics remain the same regardless of whether you are still at work or you’re on house arrest.  Physics doesn’t care about Corona. The calories in/calories out rule still applies for weight loss or weight maintenance! So, all the “covid-19 pounds” memes are truly kinda dumb. Staying at home doesn’t cause weight gain – eating more calories than you burn does (regardless of your location).

 If your activity level has changed drastically and you don’t want to gain weight, eat less calories. If your activity level has increased, then rest assured that extra coronasnack isn’t doing you any harm.

Some general rules of thumb that still very much apply in this pandemic:

-Eat only when you are hungry, most of the time. Stop when you are satisfied, not stuffed

-Choose mostly whole, unprocessed foods (bonus: they’re better for your immune system than pop tarts!)

And it’s highly unlikely that your weight or fitness will be impacted by staying at home. If you are still concerned and want something more specific, I highly recommend connecting with a sports dietician – most of them do remote consults and they can put you on a plan that will take a lot of the stress out of eating. Who needs one more thing to stress about right now anyway?

As for your activity level?  Keep in mind that we are all, collectively, under a great deal of psychological stress right now. Your body does not know the difference between physical stress and psychological stress so…it all adds up in the same way.  Think of your stress capacity like a bucket.  Both physical and psychological stress fill up the bucket, so the more emotional stress you have – like living through a global pandemic– the less room in the bucket there is for adding physical stress (workouts) – before the bucket spills over (aka you get injured or get sick).

That being said, most of us actually need to slow down with our training, rather than ramping it up. Have you noticed your legs feel heavy? Or that you wake up stiff as a board? Or that you’re sleeping way more than usual, or having more trouble sleeping than usual?  That’s the stress – and those are the same symptoms as overtraining syndrome.  Slow down, and your body will thank you.

If you are struggling with this quarantine in any way – with body image, with food intake, with exercise, with training for a sport, with an injury – please reach out to me: [email protected]  Let’s talk, I’m happy to help you with all of the above.