Stop Giving Yourself The Pandemic Pass
Your future self will be glad you did!
A physician client of mine was recently talking with a few of her physician coworkers. She mentioned working on keeping her eating in check right now and was surprised by the response she was met with. “I can’t imagine trying to lose weight during this time!” one of them said. “It would be impossible to lose weight right now,” said another. “How could someone possibly get through this time without snacks and wine?”
My client smiled and nodded, but knew deep down that there really was another way; a way of coping that makes overeating unnecessary. As a member of my Weight Loss for Doctors Only program, she is learning how to eat in a way that tastes good to her, plays nicely with her body, and is easy to follow through on day-to-day with her personal schedule. She is also learning how to manage her mind so that she doesn’t need to ask food or alcohol to help her feel better.
So many people, including physicians, have been overeating and gaining weight over the last few months. They eat to comfort themselves because being at work is terrifying. They eat to deal with the stress they feel because their list of worries seems never-ending. They eat for pleasure because they haven’t had so much time to connect with their families and other loved ones in this way for as long as they can remember. And since so many physicians generally find little time for hobbies, many have taken up baking and cooking as a way to fill their free time.
Nobody could blame you for doing these things. After all, none of us have lived through a pandemic before and we’re all figuring this out as we go along. But when we allow ourselves to use food, and possibly alcohol, to cope with our day, we’re giving ourselves a pass. We tell ourselves that we’d be crazy to try to manage our eating and drinking at a time like this. But this “Pandemic Pass” isn’t without consequences.
Giving ourselves this pass to eat whatever we want whenever we want is similar to how many women approach their pregnancies. When we aren’t feeling well and are generally living in a state of self pity, it’s easy to indulge on all our favorite foods. We tell ourselves we’ll deal with the weight gain later, after the baby is born. But once the baby has arrived, we always wish we wouldn’t have gained so much weight in the first place.
I had a pregnancy where I ate a lot of dark chocolate M&Ms. They tasted great and I ate them every day. When I felt a negative emotion that I didn’t want to feel, I ate some chocolate. The dopamine released in response to the sugar really did make me feel better. What I didn’t realize at the time was that my thoughts, not my circumstances, were what was creating my negative emotions in the first place. So the next time I had a thought that made me feel bad, I again asked the M&Ms to make it better. They happily complied. I allowed myself to believe that most of my weight gain was from the baby, placenta, and fluid. I told myself I’d easily lose the extra weight after the baby was born.
But soon after I’d delivered the baby, I realized that I had over 30 excess pounds on my body. I was none too pleased with my past pregnant self who had delegated the task of losing the weight to the present me, the one who was taking care of a newborn and a toddler. When I was pregnant and eating the M&Ms with abandon, I never stopped to consider what my future self might have to say about my eating habits. I figured she would be delighted to have a healthy baby and wouldn’t mind at all that she had to focus on losing weight in addition to all her other responsibilities. I had given myself the “Pregnancy Pass” to eat whatever I liked and now I had to deal with the consequences.
The same thing may be happening to you now, regardless of your gender or whether your childbearing days are long behind you. This pandemic is not a sprint; it’s much more of an ultra-marathon. And we’re just a couple miles in. If you are living it up, eating all the things, and believing that you’ll get yourself in check once this pandemic is over, you have a lot more weight gain ahead of you.
When Covid has settled down, you won’t be happy you gave yourself the Pandemic Pass. Your clothes won’t fit, you’ll be up a size in scrubs, and you’ll feel uncomfortable in your skin. Worse yet, you’ll have created a pattern of overeating that won’t simply go away just because the virus did. When your brain gets used to using food and possibly alcohol to deal with uncomfortable emotions, this response becomes a habit that will continue long into the future.
The good news is that you can get this under control now. Simply creating awareness around what you’re eating and why you’re eating it is the first step. What emotion are you feeling as you reach for that homemade cookie? As you reach for another slice of freshly baked bread, take a moment to identify whether you’re physically hungry or just wanting more of something that tastes good. If you’re heading to the pantry for a snack after dinner, experiment with watching your show or reading your book without the companionship of food.
When we feel uncertainty and lack of control, we often neglect to manage the things that are actually within our control. Reframe negative thoughts about your current situation so that they feel true, believable, and serve you. Practice processing your negative emotions rather than avoiding them by eating food. Plan your actions so that you set yourself up for doing the things that create the results you want for your body and your life.
Stop giving yourself the Pandemic Pass. Your future self will be so grateful you did.