Lately, you may have been hearing phrases like "quarantine 15," "pandemic pounds" and "pandemic body." This is layered on top of what has already been a challenging time for so many people, and adds to the pre-existing, pre-pandemic body shaming and body pressuring. It can send many people over the edge.
I can only speak from my own experience, so please don't mistake this as a general story or experience that I think to be applied to all. I also recognize my own body privileges - the industry caters more to my "body type" in advertising and in products, and I'm able-bodied. I also recognize my other lived privileges - I am incredibly grateful to have a roof over my head, warm food to eat, and a community of family and loved ones who are healthy, safe and who mutually care for me.
Having said that, I write this from a place of vulnerability and honesty, in hopes that in some small way I can remind you deeply and passionately from afar that you are not alone.
[TW: disordered eating]
In 2018 I started experiencing challenges with swings of starvation/binging. My identity prior to creating Society Nine (which was founded in 2016) was one of a fitness instructor (kickboxing) and overall gym junkie, on top of my full time job. I loved my community, the sweat, power and feeling I got from being at the gym. It consumed me, but in a positive way. I never thought twice about what I put in my body food-wise; I ultimately enjoyed the benefits of high metabolism - spiked even further because of my 5-6x a week gym habit.
When I started Society Nine, all of that started to change. My ability to go between work and the gym, and spend all my free time there as well as teach, had changed dramatically. It changed by way of less time to train, then having less energy to train, then led to going through withdrawal periods of not having time OR energy to go, even if I wanted to. I felt like my identity was gone and with it the "in shape body" that I felt I had.
As the business started to evolve and grow, and as it went through its own challenges, I developed increasing anxiety as pressures grew. Juggling so much and feeling sometimes like decisions, actions or plans can only be in your control so much, and especially with the results of those actions being out of your control, it was natural to want to find any way possible to grasp onto anything that made me feel like I was in the driver's seat. It was natural to feel like going after my body was the easiest way. It wasn't even a volatile decision. It made total objective, straight forward sense in my mind. Little did I reflect on the fact that it was anything but.
The decision making around eating was the control factor. I would only allow a certain amount of calories to be consumed daily if I knew that I wasn't going to get a workout in - which were a lot of days. If I found myself binging because I got so hungry after a couple of days or a week, I would self punish by saying "well, you couldn't keep control, be disciplined to work out, or even be disciplined to consume the right amount, so you gotta get it back together." The "getting it back together" though was a dangerous game, since it often factored reducing my calorie intake even more. It was constantly shifting, but between far ends of the spectrum. I would not use the word balance whatsoever - I THOUGHT it was balance, because I would do quick and dirty math and say if I binged this one day, that caloric dump screwed everything I did prior, so it was time to deduct.
The worst part about this was, deep down, I knew (and have always known) that that kind of science is fully flawed. As humans we burn calories EVERY waking moment - sleeping, walking, cooking, moving around doing laundry, etc. Layer in any sort of workout activity at all, even for a short period of time, and you're burning calories there too. Having said that, calories aside, intrinsically I knew - this calorie counting bullshit doesn't even matter. My body is a precious temple that continues to allow me to move, breathe, do, think, LIVE. But I really struggled to fight the shame and control on the other side.
That brings us to today. I won't re-live the past year and a half - I'm sure many of you would rather not as well. I struggled, like many, for a multitude of reasons but at the same time, I've been more reflective than ever about my relationship with my identity, my body, my strength, my heart and my mind. This period of deep reflection has empowered me. At the same time, I struggled with that sense of loss of control incessantly. As a small business owner juggling the risks and responsibilities of the past year, along with witnessing amplified racial violence towards non-white communities and having to process my feelings there as a Vietnamese American woman, I started attacking myself internally with the old demons.
But, I read a thread recently posted by Dr. Alexandra Solomon, a psychologist at Northwestern University. She said everything that I think I needed to hear to feel seen:
As Mental Health Awareness month reaches its final week, I think about how your heart and mind has to be worked out like a muscle too, in a non cardio sense. I have to choose every day, every waking moment, to say that I am incredibly powerful as I am. I am beautiful as I am. I am smart as I am. Life is beautiful, as it is, because I have the privilege and fortune of waking up and choosing how to live it.
The most important thing I'd end this post with is emphasizing, so deeply and compassionately as I can, how much you are NOT alone. Whatever darkness it is you are feeling, you are not alone. So many of us are processing different, heavy things, of different degrees of hardship. But it's all hard. Just remember that you're here - a living, breathing, powerful, beautiful human. I work everyday to tell myself the same thing, so you are not alone.
With my deepest empathy to you,
Founder, Society Nine