Coronavirus has helped me accept that it’s fine to be like everyone else
I’ve been thinking a lot about over-indulging while we’ve been in lockdown – and I know I’m not the only one.
The other day, a friend sent a list of Coronavirus phrases trending on What’sApp, including “Covid-10” – meaning the extra 10lbs some of us have put on through comfort eating and drinking since March 23.
In the UK, alcohol sales jumped by 22 per cent in March, while the tendency to binge and put on weight – also known as “fattening the curve” – was likewise observed in countries that went into lockdown before us.
When the UK followed Italy indoors, the novelist Francesca Melandri wrote from Rome to warn us of the changes that would take place in our lives, many of them involving food.
“First of all, you’ll eat,” Melandri warned. “Not just because it will be one of the few last things that you can still do… You’ll eat again. You will not sleep well… You will put on weight. You’ll look for online fitness training…You will eat again.”
Unfortunately, in my case, Melandri was right: I’ve overeaten and drunk too much alcohol, night after night after night during lockdown.
I guess it’s a mixture of feelings that make it happen: being bored and wanting a treat to liven up my evenings, a sort of high point to the flat day.
There’s also the strange limbo that our lives are in: a bit like being on holiday, because many of us have left behind the daily grind – but unable to relax properly because of the constant bad news surrounding the virus.
Does my constant drinking mean alcoholism is creeping up on me?“
“Alcohol and anxiety are so clearly linked,” the author of The Sober Diaries, Clare Pooley, told the BBC recently. “We train ourselves over decades to associate any form of stress with a need to drink.”
Moreover, drinking, and even thinking about a drink, have been found to release dopamine – the body’s feel good chemical – so it’s unsurprising if we turn to it as a reward after a long day stuck at home.
But, even though we might use it as a defence against stress, it’s long been known that alcohol does nothing to improve our mental health in the long term.
In fact, drinking has added to my worries because, as well as fretting about the bigger Coronavirus picture, I’ve also started to become concerned about my new habits.
Does my constant drinking mean that alcoholism is creeping up on me? And can I really consider myself a healthy, sporty person if my diet includes so many fattening beers and salty crisps?
I found myself looking properly at my body in the mirror, instead of tensing my muscles and stomach, and holding my breath”
So far, I’ve been trying to retain my shape – and my good opinion of myself – by sweating the extra weight off. After a binge, I run as far as I can, or do self-punishing cycle rides up the biggest hills I can find.
But it’s not really working: I’ve had to face the truth and admit that I simply can’t exercise enough to burn off all of my current intake, and so I must be putting on weight.
And this admission has proven unexpectedly liberating for me.
I found myself doing a surprisingly honest thing the other day: looking properly at my body in the mirror, instead of fooling myself as usual by throwing my shoulders back, tensing the muscles on my chest and stomach, and holding my breath.
It was a load off my mind to admit I just had a Dad Bod, after all”
It took a real effort of will, but this time I let it sag: eyeing my muffin tops and man boobs with a sinking feeling, mixed with relief.
It felt good not to pretend that I was ripped, for once. It was a load off my mind to admit that I just had a Dad Bod, after all.
The following morning, I saw a neighbour for the first time since lockdown – a bloke I used to disregard because he was a bit overweight. Let’s call him X.
Whenever I exercised, I used to use guys like X as a secret but mean form of motivation, thinking: So-and-so isn’t going to look as good as me, or At least I’m fitter than X.
When I saw X this week, I was surprised by how much extra timber he’d put on but – as I’d been staring at my own imperfections the day before – all I could think was: Oh, he’s put on weight, as well.
It wasn’t exactly, I’m OK, You’re OK. But at least it was a bit more humble and respectful than the way I used to think.
So, weirdly, Coronavirus has helped me accept that it’s fine to be the same as everyone else.
It seems that we really are All In This Together, though sometimes in unexpected ways.