The Mighty Logo

How I Realized Quarantine Was Triggering My Body Dysmorphia

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

Need to take your mind off what you’re going through? Join the Distract Me group on The Mighty.

Until last week, quarantine had been going pretty well.

I was enjoying my time at home, a place I do not frequent because I normally work 60 hours a week. After losing both of my jobs, I have been occupied with crafts, playing my keyboard and riding my horse twice a week as per the barn rules for quarantine.

Despite the stress, I was taking care of myself a little bit better. Over the past few weeks, it had been really healing to cook and plan meals with my partner. He encouraged me to make a list of foods I’ve been craving, and we started to create those meals together each week. Ultimately, it really gave me a sense of structure and something to look forward to during the dull days at home. We danced to music in the kitchen together while we cooked, and even sometimes dressed fancy just to have dinner in our living room. I even ordered cupcakes from a nearby bakery and actually intended to eat some.

Four weeks in and with mostly innocent intentions, I had also begun doing at-home workouts. Since I have been coping pretty well in recovery from my eating disorder lately, I figured now might be a good time to rebuild some lost muscle. Primarily, I thought, my goal was to strengthen my core and improve my horseback riding ability. At first, it was really enjoyable and proved to be a mood-boosting break during my day at home.

However, I did not realize how much of a trigger it would eventually become.

As someone who was just beginning to feel slightly comfortable in her skin, I immediately felt insecure watching yoga instructors with flawless physiques stretch so elegantly on YouTube. The exposure made me feel pretty inadequate — not skinny enough, not pretty enough, not strong enough.

I felt like I would never be able to perform.

I started body-checking while I was working out and then after I showered. I stared at myself in the mirror, thinking how thick my thighs were and how my tummy looked way bigger than normal. I wondered constantly if my body was changing, if I was gaining weight and what horrible consequences could result from that. It scared the hell out of me.

A few times, I attempted to reason with myself. Obviously it was likely that I was gaining weight since I was beginning to eat “normally.” Also, I knew that the stress of losing my job and all the uncertainty that came with it was making me feel nauseous, sick and bloated. Prequarantine (thanks to my therapist and nutritionist), I had been feeling much healthier – my mood had improved, I was able to be more active and I was feeling less and less self-conscious.

I tried to look at that positivity and see that even my relationship was happier as a result. When my partner and I cooked and shared meals together at home, it was healthy for our bodies and our bonding. I was even attempting to realize that I deserve to eat. Even if I ate more than my partner at dinner or had a snack, it was actually really healthy for me. Deep down, I knew that especially after having such an active day, eating would make me feel better and help me get a quality night’s sleep.

The past few days, that logical reasoning hasn’t been working too well. I thought about the pressure of summer approaching and I compared my body to those of the women in the fitness videos. “I’m not nearly as small as they are,” I thought. My mind worked against me to push the idea that I would be happier starving myself — that my life was better and I felt more motivated when I just stopped eating.

So for a couple of days, that’s just what I did. And in that process, I noted that my mind was very wrong when it convinced me that restricting was better. I could barely make it through my workouts, I was irritable and snappy at my partner, I wasn’t able to manage stress and most importantly, I was totally miserable.

My brain is constantly lying to me. I realized this one day when I was going for a walk with my partner to get out of the house. I felt terrible about myself that day – I studied myself in the mirror with tears streaming down my face, thinking that I looked like a beluga whale.

While we were out walking that afternoon, I found a glorious tree to climb. There was a perfect standing space between the tree’s branches, and I smiled as my partner snapped a picture of me. The whole rest of the walk, I feared what that picture might show and nervously bit my lip, worrying about looking at my horrific body.

Later that night, he sent me the photo. Shockingly, the body I saw in that picture looked NOTHING like what I had envisioned in the mirror earlier that day. It might seem vain, but I found boatloads of comfort in that. Right then, the enormity of my body dysmorphia smashed me over the head with a frying pan. Being at home all day and feeling guilt and shame about not working had triggered my brain to warp my body into something completely untrue.

The reflection staring back at me in the mirror actually was not real. It wasn’t me.

The horrible thoughts that keep closing in on me recently involve last summer, when the very worst experience with my eating disorder began. I sometimes feel guilty now, remembering how easy it was for me to go days without eating and how I felt accomplished and “proud” of myself for being strong enough to do that. I worked, I exercised and I pushed, running on absolutely nothing.

“Isn’t that something to be proud of?” I thought to myself.

In a sense, I had almost created a separate sense of self, my “hungry self.” A girl who had come up with so many distractions, substitutions and mental games to stop myself from eating.

And unfortunately, the stress of this week has triggered my hungry self. I did come up with those distractions and I did guilt myself endlessly for being weak.

The thing that really bothered me was the fact I now feel too “weak” to go hungry. I felt angry and irritable — things just weren’t the same as they were last year. I felt heartbroken and nostalgic for my hungry self, discouraged about the fact that I no longer had the strength to keep up with her.

It’s going to be hard, but I will push myself as hard as I can to develop healthy eating behaviors. I’m going to constantly remind myself that the beluga whale I see in the mirror is a figment of my imagination. I will reflect on how restricting makes life miserable for me and my partner.

Even in the midst of a pandemic, I will overcome this.

For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community:

Photo by Nicholas Bartos on Unsplash

Originally published: April 21, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home