Eating Disorders and COVID19
At this point, many of us have been isolating for weeks to minimize the spread of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus. You might be trying to navigate how to adjust to this new normal. The important thing to remember is that this is the first time that many of us have had to live through a pandemic. There is no right or wrong way on how to do it. Like many new things, it can be scary and overwhelming. For people with eating disorders and disordered eating patterns, your symptoms and behaviors may have worsened.
Living with an ED can be difficult and, when the world feels uncertain, we might struggle to manage our ED even more. You are not alone–an average of 30 million people in the U.S. live with an ED. When our circumstances are difficult, we tend to fall back on coping skills to make us feel better. We may not be used to employing our healthy coping skills in our home environment for extended periods of time like you are experiencing at this moment. Using food to cope makes sense in these really stressful moments. Accept that you may be bingeing or restricting food intake to cope and think of other coping skills you have so that is not the only coping skill you can employ during this time. Can you read a good book, start a puzzle, or watch a favorite movie? Activities like these can help you cope with distress. Headspace, Calm and other apps can teach you tools on how to relax through guided meditation and mindfulness. The Eating Disorder Foundation has a handy list of coping skills to add to your toolkit. You can never have too many coping skills. Try out as many as you’d like. You can even invite a friend or trusted adult to try one out with you virtually!
Don’t be afraid to ask for support and help during this time even if you might not be able to do it in person. Scheduling regular FaceTime meetings and planned meals with your loved ones can help. Netflix is offering an option to watch movies together with your friends through a Netflix Party browser extension. Applications like Psych and HouseParty let people play games virtually. You can ask your therapist, doctor and/or dietitian if they are able to see you through telemedicine. Telemedicine, or telehealth, is a way for health providers to see you virtually through a secure app or via telephone call. It’s usually really easy to use and set-up! Some treatment centers even have virtual support groups in place. If your ED feels especially strong during this time of social isolation, remember that seeking out support and asking for health is a sign of strength. You deserve to have high quality care even in the midst of this global crisis.
Creating routines and mapping your day can be helpful. This may include planning your meals to include 3 meals a day and 2-3 snacks between meals.
Prior to the current pandemic, you may have had activities that triggered meal times. For example, perhaps your school gave you a snack and lunch break, or you always ate a snack when you got home from school. A good place to start implementing structure is to think about your current schedule and how you can implement meals as part of it. Perhaps you have a time when you finish schoolwork or when another person in your household eats.
If you’re not able to stick to your schedule, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It’s possible that before the coronavirus, you felt like you had more control over your scheduled meals. The pandemic has disrupted a lot of our daily lives. It doesn’t mean that you’re not doing well in your treatment. You’re making progress even through the ups and downs. Be gentle with yourself and your body. You are doing the best you can.
“What if there’s no food left?”
The recent scenes at grocery stores of empty shelves and long lines can feel alarming. Lack of food in the supermarket and stores can trigger an urge to binge or hoard food, particularly when you have struggled with food deprivation, or hiding or sneaking food in the past. That’s completely understandable. Your nutrition intake may have changed from what you normally eat due to the differences in availability at the grocery store. You might be eating more calorie-dense foods or more frozen foods than you’re used to. Calorie-dense foods, such as pasta and bread, tend to have an extended shelf life (they expire later), so these are good foods to have during this time of isolation. While challenging, having limited options offers an opportunity to face some of your food fears and explore interesting meals. Remind yourself that all foods are nourishing for your body. If you live in the U.S. and are experiencing food shortages, Feeding America’s website can help you locate a food bank nearest you: Get Help Finding Food Assistance
If over-exercising is part of your ED, seeing a ton of ads and videos promoting at-home high intensity work-outs can be triggering. This might be a good time to give yourself a well-deserved break from exercising. While exercise can boost our mood, incorporating low-impact movement throughout the day, like stretching, walking, and dancing to your favorite song, can also make us feel good.
Self-Compassion is Key
Give yourself love, grace and compassion during this time. You are resilient and capable of getting through this. Depriving yourself of food and nourishment isn’t going to keep you safer during COVID-19 times. On the other hand, accepting what you can control in this present moment (i.e., getting enough sleep or choosing to incorporate something fun in your morning routine) and accepting what you cannot (i.e., the spread of the virus) will make this transition easier on your heart, body, and mind.
Care for Your Coronavirus Anxiety
National Eating Disorders Association-COVID-19 Resources
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
National Association of Mental Illness-Teens & Adolescents
Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19
-Social Worker Haidee and Dietitian Elsey