CW: Eating disorders

I’ll be honest, at the start of lockdown I was terrified. Sitting in my childhood bedroom with Taylor Swift posters on the wall and my A-Level folders crammed beneath my bed, it was easy to feel like I’d been transported back to, and trapped in, my sixth form self. For me, that would include having a precarious relationship with food. The chaos of university had put this on the back burner for a while but, stuck inside these old four walls again, the familiar feelings of early teenage insecurity came flooding back. It was as though all progress I had made had been erased and I was back to square one, warily eyeing my plate three times a day.

But some things have changed. Maybe even irreversibly so. Next to my old (and frankly despised) physics textbooks now lie recipe books, some entirely dedicated to cheese, that I have gleefully pored over for hours. Next to my school timetable hang photos of new friends and messy nights out ending in beloved cheesy chips (Hassan’s, if you’re reading this, I miss you). My school uniform hangs side by side with my proudly ironed gown, witness to many a 4-course formal. 

Maybe this is a sign that I desperately need to do a deep-clean (who still has their year 13 timetable on their pinboard?), but it is also indicative of far more than that. Lockdown has physically forced me to confront the massive changes that have occurred in my life over the past year. The strange combination of old and new versions of me that now make up who I am have suddenly become tangible. I am not the person I was last year, and my approach to food has improved beyond belief. Despite often having days where I still struggle, my attitude has, if not entirely changed, nevertheless shifted. My body and food are no longer sworn enemies but rather respectful acquaintances, occasionally even friends. Without weeks of compulsory isolation, I never would have taken the time to reflect on this newfound resilience.

Armed with this fresh self-awareness, I re-entered the world of quarantine. It is undeniable that, since March, much of our lives have revolved around food. Though the days of panic-buying pasta feel a lifetime ago, and even the bread baking mania seems to have calmed down, food is still everywhere. Not a day goes by where I don’t hear my family discuss the ‘quarantine 15’ or their detailed weight-loss regimes. With Joe Wicks and constant ‘fun home workout routines!’ clogging up my feed, it honestly sometimes feels like an obsession has gripped the nation. It speaks volumes that in the midst of a pandemic, we are still so scared of getting fat.

Last year, this would, without a doubt, have been a sucker-punch to my self-esteem. But my new perspective towards food has helped to combat this diet culture. Every time it rears its ugly head up in conversation over dinner, I help myself to another serving of Parmesan cheese. Or drink another glass of wine. This technique doesn’t solve everything and it by no means is always easy, but I try. Because really? I don’t think that concerns about weight gain should even dare approach anyone’s radar screens right now. We have much bigger issues to solve. 

I’ve realised that I am now more than welcoming of any potential weight gain, a viewpoint so shockingly different to where I was last year that it’s almost laughable. Especially during such unprecedented times, fat is, if anything, a blessing. Of course, it’s important to do your best to stay healthy, but in a pandemic ‘healthy’ takes on a wildly different meaning. There’s no way you could expect your body to stay the same shape as when you were able to freely walk everywhere, go to the gym, and didn’t need to comfort eat your way through quite as many existential crises. With your entire life disrupted, it only makes sense for your body to change too. 

Now, more than ever, it’s worth remembering how vital our bodies are to our own survival. Without them, we simply wouldn’t exist. I’m grateful for everything that my body has carried me through, every trial and error, every triumph, every mistake. I refuse to punish it for needing some extra protective coating in what is, quite literally, a global health crisis. If this is what my body needs for comfort, to get through what can feel like staggering loads of stress, then who am I to deny it of basic sustenance? I haven’t worn jeans (or any kind of relatively tight-fitting trousers for that matter) in months, but I have no doubt that when I finally do, they will be a little snugger and my belt will be a little more unnecessary. If having to abandon my belts or go up a dress size or two is the worst that comes out of this pandemic for me, then I will be unbelievably overjoyed. Generously loving my body for what it does is a maxim I aim to live by for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, I plan to use the vacation to further explore my love for food. From homemade carveries to failed attempts at the TikTok Dalgona coffee, my kitchen will soon wish it could see the back of me. I’ve finally realised how freeing enjoying food can be, and I am adamant not to let anything stop me. I’m excited to make cinnamon rolls next week. I’m excited to try a rice pudding recipe I’ve had bookmarked for years but have always been too scared to make. And I’m excited to do all of this without obsessively counting calories. If that means that by the end of lockdown there will be slightly more of me, then so be it.

When life returns to normal, I’m sure many of my lockdown habits will disappear. At least I certainly hope so – being the girl who does TikTok dances every Thursday night at Bridge is not a reputation I strive to earn. But I also hope that I will emerge from my home, slightly cautious and scared of socialisation, yet ultimately proud of what my body has done for me over the past few months. I’ll be a little rounder, a little less well-groomed, but I will have survived this crisis. 

As I head to the cheese floor, ready for another inevitable night of mistakes, the buttons on my skirt will strain more than usual. On my way home, I won’t hesitate before joining the queue at the kebab van. Food has found a home in my life again, and I will do my utmost to keep it by my side.

Beat provides information and support for anyone affected by an eating disorder. You can call their student helpline at 0808 801 0811, or visit them at beateatingdisorders.org.uk.