Coping with an eating disorder during COVID-19

Dealing with an eating disorder (ED) is always challenging, but in the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s even more so. The uncertainty about the future can aggravate sufferers’ anxiety and their need for control. In turn, this can cause them to act out on ED behaviours. But there are healthy ways to deal with the crisis. As with everything in recovery, coping takes a lot of work – but it’s worth every bit of effort.

There is no normal for anyone

The novel Coronavirus has shaken up every aspect of life. The stress of seeing people sick and not knowing who will be infected is just the beginning. A lot of people are also worried about their jobs, and when the economy will recover. Going out, even at approved times and with social distancing, can provoke anxiety. People are irritable, everyone is wearing masks, and queues to enter public places are long.

Add panic buying and empty supermarket shelves, and you have the perfect storm. Tension, frustration and worry can all bubble to the surface. This is true for everyone, and that’s important to remember. But it can be especially bad for someone with an eating disorder. At a time when you’re a lot more stressed out than usual, your coping mechanisms are severely curtailed.

You’ll probably struggle to get to support groups, fellowship meetings, counselling sessions and dietician appointments. If you use exercise to manage anxiety, you won’t be able to do so in your normal way. The foods that you usually buy are likely to be sold out often. And social media influencers are running riot with recommendations for home workouts and diets. All told, it’s the perfect breeding ground for new and old ED behaviours and thoughts.

Ways to handle your ED during the Coronavirus

The first thing you need to do is acknowledge how intense the current situation is. Expect yourself and other people to be more frazzled – as we’ve just said, there’s no normal for anyone anymore. Once you’ve got your mind around that, you can start thinking about what actions you can take.

Eating disorder sufferers are typically very rigid in their thoughts and habits, but you’re going to have to be more flexible now. Keeping to routines, so that your days have structure, is important, but your schedule will look quite different.

Think of simple stretches and exercises you can do at home, reminding yourself that you also need rest to boost your immune system. Spend some time creating a list of foods that you can buy if your normal products aren’t in stock. Set up virtual meetings with your treatment team, or email them regularly.

Virtual meetings aren’t the only way you can harness the power of technology over this time. There are plenty of eating disorder support websites, chatrooms, social media pages and smartphone apps. These are great for connecting with fellow anorexics, bulimics or those with other EDs, and showing you you’re not alone. Just make sure that someone you trust checks them out first. They need to promote recovery, not disordered behaviours.

Do what you need, take what you can

Your top priority right now is to handle COVID-19 stress’s impact on your Anorexia, Binge-eating Disorder, Bulimia, Orthorexia, or other eating disorder. The way you choose to do that will be unique to you. Do you need to go onto meal plans for a while to feel contained, or will that focus on food too much? Can you eat with the people at home, or would you prefer to check in with a fellow ED sufferer? Do what you need to do. People are facing terrible struggles due to COVD-19, but you still deserve to take care of yourself.

And finally, try to remember to take any lessons that you can from this experience. If you have to buy different food items or brands, you’ll have the chance to develop flexibility. Lockdown might force you to spend more time journaling, which could lead to fresh insights. You could also be forced to confront negative thoughts and behaviours, and actively work on changing them. This crisis will pass eventually, and how well you get through it is up to you.