The Harm of the “Quarantine 15” Jokes

By Morgan Blair – MA, Intern 

verified by Psychology Today

Eating Disorders on the Rise

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorder (ANAD), an estimated 30 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder. ANAD also estimates that one person dies from a direct result of an eating disorder every 62 minutes. Anorexia has also been reported as the deadliest mental illness.

Eating disorders aren’t just about food, but instead a series of coping mechanisms to deal with individual’s crippling anxiety, depression, OCD, or other underlying issues. Eating disorders are not about vanity, but instead, complex disorders centered around deeply rooted emotional pain.

The current climate in the world as economies, homes, health, and relationships are ravaged by COVID-19 is the ideal breeding ground for eating disorders. The world is drowning in anxiety, uncertainty, death, loss, and crisis making it more challenging for those struggling with eating disorders to keep moving in their own recovery.

Mental health treatment facilitates are turning virtual, therapists/dietitians/psychiatrists are all virtual, meal support is virtual – essentially those struggling with food and body image concerns are left to fight with their own selves – inside their own homes. Eating disorders thrive in secrecy and isolation so – as we can imagine – this situation is not ideal. In fact, this time is a complete nightmare for people struggling with eating disorders.

Increasing Triggers for Eating Disorders

Jennifer Rollin, a therapist who specializes in eating disorders, says. “I work almost exclusively with individuals who have eating disorders and eating disorder recovery, and there are a ton of triggers right now: food scarcity, gyms being closed. Times like these provoke feelings of anxiety and eating disorders love times like these. Their worst fear is being reinforced by society and heralded as funny.”

Did you know that most people in our country have reported that they would rather get COVID-19 than gain 15 pounds during this time? Let that set in. More people would rather contract a potentially life-threatening virus than gain a few pounds while quarantining. The endless array of memes and jokes circulating social media about the “Quarantine 15” or “not being able to fit into our pre-quarantine jeans” or “wishing [they] were able to quarantine from their kitchens” are not helpful.

“Weight-gain memes and comments are damaging to all of us, and particularly to people who are personally affected by eating disorders,” Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, notes. “This is a period of heightened anxiety when our community is working to find new ways of staying connected. Negative body talk and weight gain jokes have long been default modes of commiseration in our culture. But, in fact, these messages don’t bring us closer together — they stoke fear, they keep us from exploring health from a holistic perspective, and they are outright harmful.”


These comments are damaging – not only to those struggling with eating disorders but to society as a whole. These messages are undermining the efforts of body-positive activists and the Health at Every Size Movement (HAES), which have spent years trying to promote progressive ideas about health and body image.

The fact that most people would rather contract COVID-19 speaks volumes to the fatphobic culture that ravages our society. Somewhere along the course of time, we have concluded that fat is the worst thing that a person could be – forget critically ill amid a global pandemic; just make sure you don’t eat that extra serving of cake.

I would like to propose a shift in perspective. Instead of seeing this time in quarantine as a war between ourselves and our scales, why not see our ability to quarantine as lifesaving? We are doing our part to prevent those more compromised from getting critically ill. We are doing our part as a community to try to support one another.

Times are uncertain enough. Why are we so concerned with the size of our bodies during a time filled with emotional upheaval? Lastly, think about those struggling with underlining food and body image issues. Even if you aren’t aware that someone is struggling with an eating disorder, I guarantee someone in your circle is. 1 in 10 are affected in some way. So, if not for yourself, for them. Think before you make jokes about weight gain or exercise motivation or body image.

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