Colette Sheridan: Gaining the dreaded Covid-stone shouldn't be a source of shame

Just as food offers comfort in these restricted times, so too is it a reward for staying at home and staying safe, says Colette Sheridan
Colette Sheridan: Gaining the dreaded Covid-stone shouldn't be a source of shame

SWEET TREAT: “Just as food offers comfort in these restricted times, so too is it a reward for staying at home and staying safe.”

ARE you over-eating in this pandemic? You are not alone. A friend asked me what I’d most like to do once the lockdown ends. Go out for lunch, was my automatic response.

But why should food inevitably come into the equation? It’s not as if I’ve been abstemious during this strange isolating time.

On the contrary, every trip to the supermarket — the highlight of my day — involves buying more food than I had intended. Just in case I find myself at night time hankering after chocolate. As you do, watching TV chefs cooking up a storm.

And just as food offers comfort in these restricted times, so too is it a reward for staying at home and staying safe.

Once the restrictions have been lifted, we’ll all be heading out, celebrating with more food and, for those who drink, more booze. It’s a never-ending cycle, this satiating ourselves.

The only problem is, we don’t always know how to stop.

The ‘Covid stone’ has happened. No matter what time of the day I weigh myself, the stark reading is there at my feet. A lot of weight gained. A diet beckons.

How many of us will flock to Weight Watchers and Slimming World once lockdown ceases? I reckon there’ll be a queue longer than the one outside the English Market. We’ll be gagging for a bit of self-denial.

But this tendency towards punishing ourselves for our over-indulgence is pointless and can actually make us eat more. Self-compassion is what we should be practising instead of self-flagellation.

A study in the journal Appetite, asked 60 British women, aged 18 to 50, who suffer from eating disorders, to complete a series of questionnaires. They were asked about their eating behaviour, mental health and tendency towards self-criticism and self-compassion.

Half of the study participants used a self-compassion-guided meditation to cope with their negative emotions, while the other half used a self-critical strategy. The researchers found that the women who completed the self-compassion exercise reported having less desire to overeat than those who gave vent to self criticism.

We all know how cross we can be with ourselves when we demolish a packet of biscuits in one fell swoop. I’ve been there (last night, in fact) and the self-recrimination after the damage was done was a sight to behold.

I cursed myself, berated my lack of discipline, phoned a friend and moaned about my girth. Talk about paying for one’s sins!

In our current circumstances, the wall-to-wall bad news and niggling worries about contracting coronavirus can cause the body to have a stressful ‘fight or flight’ response. Studies indicate that this state can lead to overeating as well as high blood pressure. And it’s bad for mental health.

However, when people are compassionate and forgiving towards themselves, it can ease the fight or flight response and lead to healthier food choices. If only.

I don’t need a pandemic to make poor food choices. Be it comfort eating, mindless eating or giving myself a reward, the hand is never far from the cookie tin!

Nevertheless, self-compassion is promulgated as a good thing as it can highlight and challenge the shame that disordered eating leads to.

In a study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, researchers examined the connection between shame, self-compassion and disordered eating. It found that shame predicted an increase in disordered eating behaviour while feelings of self-compassion eased the distressing feeling.

We tend to ascribe moral values to fatness and thinness, with the latter indicating self-control. Fat people, on the other hand, are often seen as lazy and self-indulgent. But it’s really not helpful to think that people who over eat are ‘bad’.

Bad enough that we’re inclined to think that way ourselves without society writing us off.

A new book, This Is Big: How The Founder Of Weight Watchers Changed The World (And Me) by Marisa Meltzer is partly about the author attending Weight Watchers religiously for a year.

She realised that she was never going to be really happy with her body or with her relationship to food. And crucially, she realised that she doesn’t have to.

“I no longer feel so tortured by it or in the dichotomy of, do I hate myself, do I love myself, am I a good feminist who accepts herself, am I someone who hates themselves and is trying to change? I am all of those things all of the time. And that has given me a lot of peace.”

In other words, like Marisa, many of us have a complicated relationship with food. We’re either splurging on chips and mayonnaise or trying to feel good about eating lettuce.

I exaggerate, but you get the picture.

If we could just be a bit more moderate in our habits, it could be truly liberating.

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