Putting up a brave front when someone says, "Tumaba ka, 'ata."

It’s been a year since COVID-19 became part of our national consciousness.

Almost a year since the first lockdown was announced, banning us from leaving our homes on fear of contracting or spreading a deadly virus.

That means it's been a year since I’ve had the biggest fright of my life – fear of losing my dad who just had a major heart surgery seven months prior and my mum, who is diabetic and has kidney issues. Both of them have existing medical conditions that made them vulnerable to the worst symptoms of the virus.

And in March last year, we welcomed a new member to our family. My niece was born during the same week the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a pandemic. While my sister-in-law was on a hospital bed, the Prime Minister was on TV telling everyone that all public gatherings would be banned. I wouldn’t see my niece until she was already three months old.

I missed a very important time in my niece's life that I can never get back.

Work was also stressful but I wouldn’t even complain because I, at least, had a job. More than 700,000 Australians lost their source of income in a week.

I share all this because since COVID-19 hit, I stopped doing two things: eating well and exercising regularly. I didn’t want to risk exposing my family to the virus by going to the gym or walking outside.

As hard as it is to admit, I also resorted to comfort eating.

By the time I stepped on the scales this week, I found that I’ve gained more than 10 kilos in a year, or 18% of my previous body weight.

My dress size went from size 8 to size 14. I felt sick to my stomach at how unhealthy I became.

I don't want to see friends who haven't seen me for a year because I dread what they're going to see and say.

Some might argue that size 14 is not bad but relative to my height, I am classified ‘overweight’ based on my Body Mass Index (BMI). That comes with real health implications in the future.

This is how I want to preface the message I want to share. In Filipino culture, family and friends often greet each other with ‘pumayat ka ‘ata’ (You’ve lost weight) or ‘tumaba ka ‘ata’ (You’ve gained weight) when they haven’t seen each other for a while. The recipient of said comment often brush it off but it’s not constructive either way. Praising someone for being thin or raising the alarm when they’ve gained weight can lead to all sorts of anxiety (and worse, eating disorder).

So here are five things I wish people would stop saying about my weight and why:

1. “Oh my god, you’ve gained so much weight!”

Yes, I know. I see myself in the mirror everyday. This is not news to me but hurtful to hear as you don’t know what kind of year I just had.

2. “Michelle, is everything okay? Have you stopped exercising?”

Obviously, I stopped exercising. I would prefer if you don’t ask because then I have to explain my situation to you and you’ll be the nth person I would have had to say it to. Like ‘coming out fat’ to each and every person I haven’t seen for a year.

3. “You need to stop eating. Have you tried [insert diet craze here]?”

Asking me to stop eating only makes me want to eat even more. And extreme diets are bad for your long-term health.

4. “That's what happens when you get older. It's harder to lose weight."

A lot of people stay healthy regardless of age. You have to stay disciplined but your metabolic rate is not an excuse.

5. “I'm not going to say anything."

You just did.

35% of Australians gained weight since the pandemic began.

The pandemic wreaked havoc in our lives. According to research, one in three Australians gained weight last year, likely due to COVID-19 related stresses. Instead of giving unsolicited advice or derogatory comments, what I would like is for people to take a deep breathe and be thoughtful about what they say. 

A year on I feel more confident about my parents' safety against the virus and have started doing some exercises again. I'm also looking to get my weight back on track in the next six months. But let me do that in my own time and without fear of judgment. With the world upside down as it is, everyone will appreciate receiving more compassion and kindness from the people around them.

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