I used to fixate on what I ate and how often I worked out, and it made me miserable.
In quarantine, I decided I’d had enough — life was hard enough without worrying about my body.
Later, I discovered I’d lost nearly 20 pounds, and learned I should respect my body, not punish it.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve driven myself over the edge trying to bring my weight down.
As a petite woman who is barely five feet tall, even the slightest uptick is visible on my tiny frame. I have always been very conscious of looking plump, which acquaintances don’t fail to point out. “Oh you look lovely, but a bit chubbier than before,” they say nonchalantly while sipping their coffee.
I stopped tracking my weight in March, when the novel coronavirus shut everything down and people started talking about putting on “quarantine pounds.” But instead of watching my worst weight gain fears come true, the opposite happened.
I used to fixate on what I ate, obsess over others on social media, and go to the gym every day
In pre-pandemic times, I checked my weight before the workout as well as after it, monitoring the infinitesimal, half-pound difference. I maintained a strict diet as suggested by my trainers. On days when I didn’t have time to go to the gym, I took my yoga mat, picked out a one-hour training video on YouTube, and did as the instructor did.
I hated every minute of it. People talk about feeling a great adrenaline rush from the gym, but I felt the opposite. I felt suffocated, as if someone was sitting on my chest. I have always felt like your body knows when you hate something, and so mine remained defiant. It wouldn’t shed any pounds, no matter how hard I tried. It knew I hated going to the gym. I wanted to scream at it.
My obsession with my weight had no boundaries. At lunch and dinner with friends, I would order small meals because fitness experts suggested eating small portions on social media. Whenever I dated someone, I constantly compared my figure with their ex-girlfriends’, including one who was an aspiring actress and another who possessed a size-zero figure.
I obsessed over their Instagram feeds and sent screenshots to my friends. “Will he still want to date me if I don’t have a thigh gap like that?” I asked them. A small waist, flat tummy, big booty and a thigh gap: that’s what I was aiming for.
The uncertainty and misery of the pandemic convinced me to leave my old ways of thinking behind
Early on, I traveled from London to New Delhi to visit my parents, and got stuck with them when international travel was prohibited. Everywhere I looked, people were panicking as gyms closed down, but the idea of going back to those YouTube videos filled me with dread.
At some point, my scale stopped working. Instead of frantically running out to buy a new one, I decided I didn’t want any more anxiety. I didn’t want to know my weight anymore. For once, I just wanted to live without worrying about how many calories I needed to burn. Enough is enough, I said to myself. I was exhausted.
Instead of monitoring my food habits or dieting, I started going for runs for the sake of sanity. This time, weight loss was not a motive: I had never been able to bring my weight down before, so I finally stopped focusing on it. Sometimes, I didn’t even run, but walked endlessly at a languid pace, taking in the surroundings and allowing myself to breathe as the world crumbled in the wake of coronavirus. It helped clear my mind, and I was hooked on it.
I focused on not caring about a number, and ate whatever I wanted without feeling guilty. Getting through the day was hard enough, and I didn’t have it in me to obsess about an ideal body anymore. It feels sad now, remembering how I equated my self-worth with a number. I judged myself and let myself wallow in self-loathing, even though I was perfectly healthy.
Truth be told, I didn’t care about being healthy. All I cared about was being skinny. I wanted to go back to my teenage years, when people asked about my figure and how I was able to stay so thin. When I lost that metabolism in my twenties, I lost that attention, and pop culture – the Kardashian-inspired obsession with a funhouse mirror version of a woman’s body – only fueled that loss.
No matter how hard I tried to push past it, deep down, I refused to believe that my body would change as I got older. I still wanted to be able to say in a cooing voice, “I don’t have a diet or a work-out routine, it’s just natural.” But nothing I was doing to my body these last few years was natural.
I’ve learned to listen to my body, rather than punish it
Eventually, after more than six months in quarantine, I finally ordered a scale. (My mother reminded me that she needs one to monitor her thyroid fluctuations.)
I was shocked. In all the years I spent obsessing over that number, I never lost more than a pound or two. But this time, I discovered that I had lost just shy of 20 pounds.
My pandemic experience taught me to respect, not punish, my body. I started loving my body, even if that meant not having a thigh gap or a tiny waist. I still go for runs – not because I want to lose weight, but because I want to remain healthy and feel relaxed. At the end of the day, it’s about listening to your body and respecting its likes and dislikes.
I no longer worry whether a guy would want to date me or my imperfect body. There is still a long way to go – every now and then I find myself needing validation and approval, especially when scrolling through social media. But I have to remind myself that I would never let my friends question their self-worth, and there is no reason I should allow myself to do it, either.
It’s been constantly raining where I am, and I haven’t gone for a run in about a week. But I am not losing my mind over it, or worrying about putting on “quarantine pounds.” The batteries of my new scale ran out again last month, and I haven’t felt an urge to replace them anytime soon. I don’t know my weight, but I know that no matter what, I am not scared of it anymore.
Meehika Barua is a freelance journalist. She has written for Vogue, The Guardian, British Vogue, VICE, Glamour, The Washington Post, Al Jazeera, Elle, The Independent, among other publications. She covers culture, lifestyle and social issues, sometimes through the lens of tech and human rights. Follow her on Twitter @meehikabarua.
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