How to stay body positive during the coronavirus pandemic

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In the middle of all this uncertainty, while everyone is trying to cope in isolation, social media can be a beacon of hope. 

But in this 24/7 anxiety-inducing news cycle, the last thing anyone needs is a meme about gaining weight during quarantine. Body shaming is never cool – but it’s especially infuriating to see images of “fat Monica” from Friends presented as “post-pandemic me LOL.” 

“I follow a lot of fitness professionals and gyms, and I’m seeing a lot of marketing that is based on fear and guilt,” says Natalie Borch, owner of the Pink Studio, a dance studio on the Danforth. 

And it’s not just in her industry: Influencers, meme accounts and brands everywhere are telling us to use this time to try a new diet or order a set of weights and “go hard!” 

Borch takes an opposite approach: She does believe it’s important to move our bodies, whatever our new routines might look like (and routine can be really important for folks right now), but it’s mainly for the sake of our mental health. 

Borch points out that research shows dancing reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression: “When you’re dancing, you’re too busy to think about anything else – it can really take you away from your anxiety and stress.”

The Pink Studio is offering virtual classes with themes including baby Beyoncé and family hip-hop, partly to help the business survive through this time, but also to promote a sense of community and shared confidence. 

But even if a structured class isn’t your thing, “just dance it up in the kitchen with your music blasting,” Borch says.

Beyond finding happiness through movement, Borch challenges people to change their mindset when it comes to food. “Find the joy and the gratitude in food; try to replace feelings of shame with that.”

Rosie Mensah, a Toronto-based dietitian, says it is indeed important to be mindful about the language we use when it comes to labelling ourselves and what we eat. 

“There’s a lot of messaging going around about ‘clean,’ and ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods,” Mensah says. “That’s problematic, because we start to think we’re bad people for eating certain things. We have to unlearn a lot of this messaging and that’s a challenge right now with what’s going around on social media.” 

When you start to feel guilty about eating, Mensah says it’s important to think about what might be causing that guilt and be gentle with yourself. 

“This is a very stressful time. We often look to food as a way to cope and to feel better,” she says. “Food is so much more than the nutrients it provides; it gives us memories and can be a reminder of our culture.” That’s why it’s important not to beat yourself up over your choices. 

Now is the time for self-care and survival, not guilt and shame. Consider unfollowing accounts that make you feel bad about yourself (or hit that handy “mute” button for now). 

Try to curate your social media feed to be a place where all bodies are celebrated by following accounts that promote acceptance and confidence (check out @theantidietplan, @thebodypositive and @themilitantbaker to start). 

And try to practice mindfulness when you eat; enjoy that damn brownie and savour every last bite of it. 

Ultimately, it’s your body – and, as Mensah puts it, “you’re the expert when it comes to your own life.”

@loragrady