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Coping With an Eating Disorder During a Global Pandemic
Has lockdown triggered your eating disorder recovery? You’re not alone.
With the world shrouded in uncertainty over the pandemic, every aspect of our lives has changed, including how to cope and recover from an eating disorder. People suffering from an eating disorder or currently recovering, also have to deal with the added stress of staying healthy during the pandemic. For many, the road to recovery has been challenging due to living in isolation, therefore, limiting access to essential medical resources.
The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) reported that their helpline increased by 73% in March when the majority of the world began their lockdown procedures.
Prior to lockdown, mental health and eating disorder recovery writer, Chloe Faulkner, was attending a clinic once every two weeks while recovering from anorexia nervosa. With each passing week, she has discovered that lockdown has had an impact on her progress.
“I feel like lockdown has not only knocked me back but also taken a good portion of my recovery from me.”
In the past, traumatic and life-changing events, such as a pandemic, have had effects on people’s mental health, accentuating existing challenges. When it comes to people with an eating disorder, feelings of food guilt, loss of control and being unable to find new distractions for negative thoughts all aid in triggering their recovery.
The panic buying, lack of certain food in grocery stores and living a more sedentary lifestyle have all been associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. After speaking to women recovering from eating disorders while in lockdown, they all pointed out that one of the biggest struggles has been not being able to live a more active lifestyle or have access to the gym. For some, being able to work out helps with mood as well as body image.
A common problem amongst people in lockdown is finding something to do to pass the time. Without other people to distract us or a job to go to, people have noticed their eating habits have changed, causing them to eat more than usual. This is no different for people with an ED. However, it can affect them differently. The fear of weight gain adds additional pressure especially to those with anorexia and bulimia to maintain a certain body type. This could lead to negatively changing their relationship with food or wanting to eat less as a result.
Emily Bashforth, a 20-year-old blogger and writer, explained that her relationship with food and her perception of her body while recovering in a pandemic has been something she’s been trying to overcome, “I’ve struggled a lot with eating in general, questioning if I’m eating too much and often feeling as though I’m gaining weight through occasional extra snacking out of boredom and simply just sitting on my couch for more time.”
I’ve spent a lot of time feeling very trapped inside my own head and body
She goes on to add, “Lockdown and the lack of distractions have also meant more time for me to really just be in my body, and think about how it looks, and that has been a real mental obstacle to try to battle. I’ve had more time to live with my thoughts and there have been more opportunities for my eating disorder’s voice to infiltrate my thinking and bring toxic beliefs back to the surface. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling very trapped inside my own head and body, and struggling with living with family members who don’t entirely understand what I’m dealing with.”
The coronavirus pandemic has also forced people out of their jobs and routines and some have even moved back to their childhood home or hometown. For some, this can bring comfort to some but for others, it’s where their eating disorder had originally manifested.
President of the Beat Society at King’s College in London, 20-year-old, Jennie Haines, has suffered from both anorexia and bulimia is now back in her childhood home during lockdown and has found the environment to be triggering.
“My ED is very much related to control, in that I use my ED in order to feel a sense of control at times when everything else is out of my control. I know that these are experiences felt by a lot of eating disorder sufferers right now.”
How to stay on the road to recovery
Even though recovery is no easy feat, there are ways that can help you cope during this difficult time. Many therapists and eating disorder specialists are offering their services over the phone or even via Zoom. Emily has found solace in speaking with her eating disorder specialist each week to reassure her. Although she does admit that since she can’t meet face-to-face, she has found it difficult to always be truthful about her struggles but is still grateful she has someone to speak to about it.
If your specialist is not available or hasn’t made arrangements, there are helplines and online support groups. Jennie’s Beat Society is raising awareness and funds for those in the current situation as well as providing a safe space for students suffering from an eating disorder.
Understanding how mentally draining it can be, she suggests, “My main piece of advice for those who are feeling themselves turn to disordered eating is to reach out to someone, and get those thoughts out in the open before they accumulate and snowball into something bigger and more dangerous.”
“Eating disorders thrive in isolation so make sure you’re communicating with people.”
Emily also finds comfort in reaching out to others with eating disorders since they can most likely relate to what you’re going through, “I’m someone who finds great comfort and strength in reading other people’s stories and connecting with fellow eating disorder sufferers, and that’s something I’ve been doing a lot of over the last few months, even more so than usual. I’ve connected with amazing people on social media who have found the lockdown hard on their recovery, and the community has been a real safety net for me, reminding me that I’m not alone in my struggles and having people there always willing to offer guidance or even just to listen if they’re finding things difficult too and so can’t always give advice. Sometimes merely having somebody say, ‘I understand how you feel’, means the world.”
Sometimes merely having somebody say, ‘I understand how you feel’, means the world.”
Ultimately, finding someone to talk to that understands your disorder, whether that’s a specialist or loved one, can make things easier and help get you through those rough days. Be sure to educate those you are in quarantine with to be mindful of their words and how not to trigger you. Most people with an ED will ask those around them not to mention weight loss or weight gain as it can negatively impact their way of perception of their body. The people around you are also more aware of your eating habits. To help with your recovery, express to others that they should also not mention your food choices and should acknowledge the progress you’re making during this difficult time.
In regards to weigh-ins, medications and/or routine check-ups regarding your eating disorder, be sure to speak with your GP or medical professional to see if they can find a way to accommodate you.
Above all, remember that lockdown is temporary and it’s completely okay if your eating patterns have changed or if you’re unable to be as physically active. Your weight may fluctuate but that’s okay. Try to stick to a routine and forgive yourself if you have an off day or eat more than usual. You’ve come a long way and you know that some days are going to be harder than others.
You are much stronger than you think.
Beat Helpline (UK): 0808 801 0677
NEDA Helpline (US): (800) 931-2237 or text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line