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The "Quarantine15": How Dieting Culture Influences Us Even During a Global Pandemic

By Zoe Trager

My Facebook feed is full of middle age moms and distant relatives laughing about the “Quarantine 15,” a term that is floating around on social media to describe the weight gain that has come with being cooped up in our houses. 

These women post pictures of their quarantine baked goods, their homemade meals, and write “Well, there go my diet plans! #Quarantine15”

I am terrified of the Quarantine 15. As someone who has struggled with her weight and an eating disorder for years, the thought of putting on weight and coming back into the world 15 pounds heavier makes me dizzy. I haven’t seen people in months and their first impression of me is going to be someone who is forced to wear oversized sweatshirts and leggings, unable to fit into her other clothes.

I haven’t seen many other women talk about their body dysmorphia spiking during quarantine, but I assume they are out there. While most people are taking the time to get comfortable with their body, letting their roots grow out and ditching makeup every day, I have spent much of quarantine staring in the mirror. The sudden influx of free time has forced me to fill my day with something, and I have subconsciously decided that it would be unlearning everything I worked on in therapy.  

I have noticed my eating disorder quirks return slowly, but surely. When my friends and I drink, I catch myself saying we should do shots, knowing that I will still get drunk but without the calories of a mixer. We crash on the couch each evening and watch shitty TV; after two episodes I am jittery and suggest a walk “for fun,” while actually being concerned about being sedentary all day. When my boyfriend suggests we switch things up and quarantine for a bit at his place, I notice myself eating less in front of his roommate, acting as though the perfect midnight snack is two bites of raspberry sherbet. 

The other day I changed my outfit six times, feeling confident in nothing, even though my day would consist of sitting at the kitchen table, then the couch, then the bed.

To other people, “Quarantine 15” is funny, comparing it to “freshman 15” (something I was equally terrified of). To those of us with eating disorders, it is anxiety inducing. Seeing others “stress baking” stresses me out!

I am not calling this tongue-in-cheek hashtag fatphobic or saying that my distant cousin is directly targeting me, everyt ime she posts about it on Facebook. 

But maybe we could stop commenting on weight gain, especially on social media.

Diet culture has forced us to act as though any time we eat something caloric or “break our diet” we must be apologetic. 

“Just a treat! I’m being a little naughty today!” We say, as though we have to make an excuse for stress eating in what is probably one of the most stressful times in most of our lives. 

I know I am more than what I eat. I know that my followers don’t care that I had a cookie today or that I opted to order greasy fast food instead of cooking at home. But I still feel the pressure to post, so that when I’m out of quarantine, I can smugly say I ate healthy and didn’t gain weight. 

Diet culture is so ingrained in me that I view not gaining weight, when everyone else around me is, as some sort of trophy, something to brag about. When, in actuality, no one will care. When quarantine is finally over, I am almost certain no one will be looking at me and wondering if I have gained weight. 

Gaining weight is not something I need to apologize for. I do not love those around me less when they gain weight. When I indulge, even if due to stress eating, it is not necessary to take to Facebook and proclaim that I don’t normally do this, working harder to convince myself more than those around me. 

I can’t police what others post; I don’t want to do that anyway. If you think peak comedy is posting about Quarantine 15, go ahead. But I think during this time, it is good to remember that the block or mute or unfollow buttons exist for a reason. Don’t keep someone on your feed if you actively know they’re damaging to your mental health.

We all have to remember to be kinder to ourselves, especially during an anxiety filled time. You know what is best for yourself; don’t be afraid to pursue that. Recognize when you need help. Reach out to those around you.

I told my friend I was slipping into old eating habits. She recommended a telehealth therapy appointment if I felt overwhelmed and to let myself indulge in a meal I really enjoy, without worrying about calorie count. 

I woke up today, put on clothes, and immediately felt confident. It was a welcome surprise.

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