Body Image in Isolation

Julia Reiss – writer, humorist, and CUUP’s lifeline to a Parisian way of life – takes an honest look at eating disorders in isolation, sharing her tips for battling old habits and finding loving resilience. 

Body Image in Isolation
Trigger Warning: this post discusses eating disorders and relapse in isolation – and readers may experience an anxiety response for those who have a history with or are currently struggling with body trauma. 

 

I am not a doctor or licensed therapist, and I do not have the requisite background to give medical advice. What I am, however, is a woman who struggled with a serious eating disorder (anorexia) for the entirety of her adolescence and most of her twenties. Just like any toxic frenemy from a particularly trying period in one’s life, my eating disorder is wont to resurface every so often—her visits tend to coincide with moments in my life where I feel a particular lack of control—and woo me with tales of the trouble we used to get into together.

Everyone’s experience of an eating disorder and body dysmorphia is unique. However, my experience would suggest that this particular motley crew of mental health issues has one hallmark quality in common: they thrive in isolation. Cut to March 2020. Cue global pandemic and relatively immediate global shutdown. Isolation is no longer a choice, it’s an urgent necessity. Lights, camera, relapse!

All bad jokes aside, if your relationship with your body has taken an especially rocky turn, know that these circumstances can be especially triggering. This two-for-one special of stress and solitude is a recipe for disaster (forgive the gastronomic metaphor). So, it is entirely understandable that you may feel yourself returning to your eating disorder’s default setting. As destructive as those habits and thoughts are, at least they’re familiar. And in a world where we have surrendered so much of our personal agency for the common good, eating disorders provide a false yet powerful sense of control.

By the way, family, significant others, and like quarantine company may, unwittingly or otherwise, make things worse. I’ll spare you the lesson on Enabling 101, but suffice it to say that even the most well-intentioned compliment will often add fuel to the self-loathing fire. If your body has become your fixation, the last thing you need is anyone reinforcing that obsession. And like all secrets, all those clandestine behaviors (body measuring, counting your bites, binging and purging—the list goes on) only intensify in value, when there’s someone from whom you need to hide them.

Unfortunately, the digital landscape offers little relief. On the contrary, social media has become a minefield of food and fitness-related posts. It would appear that everyone and their cousin is making their own sourdough starter (guilty) between borderline-manic dance classes on Instagram Live. 

All this would have us believe that our dysmorphic fate has been sealed for the duration of quarantine. However, this prolonged period of privacy comes with an opportunity to confront our body issues head-on and to experiment with alternative ways of thinking and living, so that we may better our relationship with ourselves. So without any further ado, I present my completely non-clinical quaruntiner’s guide to the body-accepting galaxy:

  1. Cut yourself a break. These circumstances are unprecedented and jarring for every human being on Earth, so if you’re not handling by live streaming your pilates session, who gives a shit? Remove guilt from your mental menu—believe it or not, it is a choice that you still have.
  2. Treat mealtime as sacred not secret. Rediscover the pleasure of eating a proper meal and not a sad desk lunch. You don’t have to go full-on Michelin Guide for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but make meals a bit of an occasion. For those with food issues, cooking and rediscovering the foods you actually like versus what you allow yourself to eat can be a terrifying process that takes time. Now is as good a moment as any to start.
  3. Stay social. If you’re riding solo, invite a friend to eat with you over FaceTime, Zoom, et al. If you’re quarantined with others, eat together when you can. Eating in the presence of good company helps normalize our relationship with food and discourage under or over-eating.
  4. Marie Kondo your social media. If certain people or accounts do not spark joy or only serve to reinforce your negative self-image, consider this permission granted to unfollow, mute, and block with abandon. 
  5. Workout sensibly. A reasonable amount of physical activity is always a good thing, but for some, the line between staying fit and compulsive over-exercising is blurry at best. That being said, try not to treat exercise as a means to an end. Find an activity that you actually enjoy, and attempt to squeeze in 30 minutes-ish of it a day. Your mood will thank you.
  6. Ask for help when you need it. There is absolutely no shame in the mental health game. If despite your most concerted efforts you feel yourself slipping into psychologically dangerous territory, seek the support of a particularly understanding friend or mental health care professional.

There arguably never has been a more important time in history to love and protect your body, in all its splendid fragility and resilience. No one is expecting you to come out of quarantine with six-pack abs after having written the next best-selling novel or blockbuster script. (I’m talking to myself here too, obviously.) If instead, you can simply focus on becoming a more balanced, vibrant, and confident version of yourself, who knows what you could go on to accomplish next?

 

NEED SUPPORT? Text HOME to 741741

Struggling with an eating disorder, anxiety, depression, isolation or other mental health crises during the time of COVID-19? Text HOME to 741741 for text-message-based crisis support provided by The Mental Health Fund. No judgments. No fees. This is a lonely time, but you are never alone. We support you – right now more than ever.

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Julia Reiss is a Franco-American writer, humorist, and creative woman about town—the town currently being Paris. Born in Los Angeles and bred in New York City, she feels most at home amongst acerbic personalities and concrete. Her writing has been seen in the likes of Vogue, Marie Claire, InStyle; and heard on the occasional comedy television series. Her likes include black coffee, red wine, and high-rise denim. Support Julia's work on Instagram and Twitter.

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That was lovely and uplifting, such good reminders. Thank you.

Bonnie Crotzer

May 2020


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