The arrival of coronavirus has brought with it the arrival of new restrictions, and for eating disorder survivors and sufferers, it is all too familiar. I have just recovered from an eating disorder and now again find my life controlled by a sinister rulebook l know frustratingly well – just this time I’m not the one writing it. With briefings telling me what I should and shouldn’t be doing – one form of exercise a day – the implicit media standards and silent pressures so many of us feel have now become direct commands. Suddenly everyone is saying “I should do more exercise because I don’t want to put on weight”, or “I’ve got to be careful I don’t snack too much given the circumstances”, or “I should eat less of this” as the prospect of food shortages becomes real.
I’m angry that the front page of the Times’ weekend supplement is: “Offset your calories — how not to get fat at home”, instructing me on how many times I need to run up the stairs in my house to counterbalance the glass of wine I drank with my friends on Zoom last night. “30 minutes with Joe Wicks” allows me – yes “allows” is the word used – a slice of cake. Thank you so much Joe for permitting me such a luxury, and thank you too for your presumption that we all live in big houses with stairs. What would in normal times be no more than a passing comment about a post-work visit to the gym has now become the topic of conversation, the social media post, and has generated an exercise culture that is all the more compulsive and competitive. Whenever I’m online I’m being shamed by someone, somewhere saying: “You haven’t done Zoom yoga?”, “You haven’t run 5km for NHS heroes?”, “You haven’t livestreamed Zumba?”. Questions which make you ask yourself – if someone else hasn’t asked you already – “what then have I been doing instead?”
Run faster, look thinner, do more … Aren’t we allowed to just sit and think about the strange madness of the situation – how it’s hard and how we feel scared or uncertain or depressed and perhaps, because of this, we may not want to, or not be able to do anything at all? Or do we all have to be exercising all the time?
I’m angry because it seems that the people who go on these well-broadcasted runs are precisely the people who ignore the social distancing rules. The parks are filled with joggers weaving in and out of the dotted walkers, leaving their unwelcome scent as they brush past.
When a jogger’s only mechanical thought is time, distance, and calories “offset”, it seems that social distancing isn’t always on their mind. Perhaps this is why I find them constantly coming too close for comfort, too close for safety.
This is a time which we’ll look back on: judging ourselves and being judged by others for the decisions we made. What will we choose to be more important? The pleasure of posting your crafted physique in your Lululemon gear? Or the feeling that it’s probably going to make someone else – the self-isolaters, the shielders, the disabled, the depressed, your own friends who may want to exercise but can’t – feel absolutely awful. It’s like we’re at war so we should treat it as one and in these moments of uncertainty, fear and sadness, turn to collective solidarity instead: boosting people’s morale and spirits. We should run because it makes us feel good, because we enjoy it, with a favourite song blasting, half-dancing and on top of the world.
And if we’re not out running – why should any of us have to? – let’s not let Joe Wicks become our new Shakespeare, Stormzy and Meryl Streep. Since when did exercise culture replace real culture? Has freedom become something that can only be had in the one hour of exercise, or can we get freedom within the confines of our home as we discover new worlds in books and music and films and recipes? Have we forgotten how much joy can be had from reading a great book, as you shut the back cover? Some of our freedoms have been restricted – and for good reason – but let’s enjoy the ones we have left, freedoms we so often ignore.
So, when you’re cooking and baking and sourdough-bread making, don’t caveat it with a comment about putting on weight. “Do these cookies cancel out my run?”, “I’ll add that to my corona-kilos”, “Stay home and get fat”. Yes, you’re going to put on some weight but hey, we all will, so what’s the big deal? Let’s get fat together and accept it – collective solidarity – instead of trying to constantly outrun each other.
And for eating disorder survivors and sufferers, accepting this will be even harder. The idea of being locked inside for an indefinite period of time, not able to buy familiar foods, or having someone do your shopping for you is already terrifying. A social media world filled with people bragging about the amount of exercise they’re doing makes it so much worse. Recovery is tough enough as it is so, please, for me, for all the people out there who are just about surviving this period, think twice before posting about your 5km run.
images by @eldabroglio