Heal yourself: pandemic and beyond
Nutritionist Fiona Sutherland advises on how to heal your relationship with food, eating and your body post-COVID.
Every time the year “2020” is uttered, it is met with a variety of responses, facial expressions and gestures. Our experiences will have varied widely depending on where we live and our degree of access to our “usual” life but it’s probably safe to say that for many dancers last year was one out of the box. It was a year which pushed us to the edge and one which – completely without our consent – asked us to test ourselves out in ways we’ve never experienced.
Emerging research is already letting us know that mental health issues, including food, eating and body image difficulties, sky-rocketed over the year and are expected to stay high long after the more acute phases of COVID restrictions have lifted. Uncertainty accelerates and amplifies our tendency to want to reclaim control in any way we can. For this reason, many people have experienced a change to their eating patterns and body image.
Although the way we experience our body – or body image – changes over time, this might be one of the first situations for many dancers where specific ways our body moves or feels is significantly different to usual. Interestingly, one’s body image is often independent of actual body shape; in other words, anyone of any shape or size can experience more positive or more negative body image. Additionally, one’s body image can change even if the body shape does not. Merely a significant change in routine and environment is enough to trigger a cascade of responses which leaves us feeling uncertain and lacking in stability and confidence.
From here, body uncertainty or body anxiety can in turn lead to a person making changes in their food choices, eating patterns and routines to help them feel comforted and in control. The trouble is, these changes can also lead to under-fuelling and perpetuating further anxiety about our bodies.
If you relate to this, please know you are not alone. Some people have experienced changes to their body shape which have led to negative feelings, others have experienced very little change, yet still feel more negative. If your body has changed, please also know that this would be common, and expected. You are not doing anything wrong and embarking on a restrictive eating plan is likely to do the opposite to what you intend.
Tip 1: Nutritional self care
Coming out of the pandemic, it is more important that ever to take good care of your body and yourself as you readjust to more regular routines and schedules. Experiment with planning some balanced meals ahead of time (with grains, meats/eggs/plant proteins and vegetables), and make sure to keep your pantry and fridge stocked. Home delivery services such as Hello Fresh can be useful for those extra-busy weeks.
Tip 2: Don’t diet
Although it is really understandable and tempting to make dietary changes to change your body shape, remember that even the energy-restricted diets that are designed for “health” still come with risks. They will not meet your energy needs and they will put you at risk of fatigue, anxiety, depression, injury and hormone dysregulation (in the form of missed periods or low libido). Eating enough food, a decent variety, at regular intervals needs to be a priority. Now more than ever.
Tip 3: Be kind
Any adjustments back into life take time, and your relationship with food, eating and your body will be no exception. No doubt you will want to “get back to normal” ASAP, but that’s not usually how bodies – or lives – work. Gather your support crew around you and aim to be kind to yourself as you and your body adjust to a post-COVID 2020 life.
Tip 4: See a sports dietitian
For individualised advice, see a sports dietitian. To find someone in your local area, or a good match for you, see www.sportsdietitians.com.au.
This article was originally published in the Jan/Feb/Mar 21 Never miss an issue! Subscribe here.
Fiona Sutherland is an accredited practising dietitian and nutrition consultant and yoga teacher at Body Positive Australia andThe Mindful Dietitian.