by Marissa Mangual, LPC
Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer. Typically we see lots of images about "summer body" which can stir up feelings of shame or inadequacy especially after all these weeks of being in quarantine. I think about how we each have a different relationship to food. Some of us eat enough to nourish ourselves. Some of us have shame around food that we learned from our families, friends, media. Some of us have strict rules around what we can eat and when we can eat. Some of us use food to comfort ourselves when we are feeling sad, bored, lonely, angry, anxious. Some of us think we will feel better when we reach a certain size or body shape and have learned extreme ways to try and achieve that. We each can have periods where we eat too much or too little. Stress, isolation, lack of control, not feeling worthy can lead to disordered eating. Eating disorders are ultimately not about food but about our relationship to our feelings, the people around us, and willingness to be flexible and not always in control. Living through a pandemic can make us more vulnerable.
Another impact from quarantine is the disruption of effective coping skills. Some people developed coping skills that mainly involved socialization and not isolating. Some skills and distractions may have been going to bookstores, hanging out with friends and family, enjoying nature or hiking, seeing a movie, or perhaps going to a coffee shop. These are common and helpful coping skills for many. Those in early recovery may also be working on exposure by going into restaurants and ordering new foods. It can be challenging to adapt and learn unfamiliar coping skills when the ones that worked are temporarily unavailable. In turn, this may increase uncertainty and feeling out of control. However, you can still do this! There are resources available online and tips to help.
Many people with eating disorders also struggle with co-occurring disorders including substance use, depression, anxiety, trauma, and/or mood disorders. When someone attempts to manage ED behaviors they may have urges to use substances or engage in other harmful or ineffective behaviors as well. Trying to cope with various urges and uncomfortable emotions during social distancing could magnify symptoms of anxiety and depression. In turn, these symptoms could increase ED behaviors or lead to relapse. What is wonderful is most people’s access to technology and the various platforms for video chats. There are ways to stay connected and receive support and therapy through Telehealth (online) services. Thankfully, even insurance companies are making accommodations for providers and members to make it more accessible and easier at this time. Additionally, multiple support groups have become available online if you do not have a support network around you.
I have noticed an insurmountable amount of posts on instagram and social media about weight gain during quarantine. I feel that some people speak of this anxiety as if it is equal to the fear of infection itself. There has been an incredible amount of commentary and messages about “eating healthy” and “being more productive” to stay fit during this time. It is okay to have feelings about weight gain, feelings are always valid, but society as a whole puts incredible pressure and indirect shame for being stationary and putting on pounds for enjoying foods and eating more than one may typically eat. Most of these messages are under the veil of a joke. Shame and guilt can be driving forces to an eating disorder. For me, I have to limit and block some accounts to avoid seeing and internalizing these messages. I also spread awareness and follow accounts from ED dietitians, therapists, and other like-minded individuals. I suggest taking time away from social media or diet-culture accounts if you find it it influences you more negatively during this time.
As we continue to social distance and stay safe, I want to also remind everyone that it is OKAY not be okay right now. The world is experiencing a collective trauma that no one could have psychologically and emotionally prepared for. With that said, it does not mean you lack complete control. You may cope differently, experience more sadness and anxiety than usual, and struggle to stick to a regular meal plan. However, human beings are innately resilient and capable of adapting to even the most unpredictable circumstances.
Reach out for support
Be kind to yourself.
You can get through this.
We are here for you and your family. Learn more about how to contact us here and read more about eating disorders.
by Marissa Mangual, LPC
The Coronavirus (Covid-19) has impacted the world financially, socially, economically, medically, and psychologically. My first concern has been the lives of those impacted by this virus, but I also began thinking about the influence on individuals struggling with eating disorders and recovery.
There are several reasons why people with eating disorders are more vulnerable and at risk for relapse during this pandemic. The coronavirus has created fear and heightened anxiety in the general population. It has increased feelings of instability and being out of control. Many with eating disorders have a desperate need to control aspects of their lives including their environment and unpleasant emotions. This control takes form through engaging in behaviors such as restricting food, binge eating, purging, over-exercising, and taking diet pills/laxatives. The necessary precautions that our nation has put in place may cause a significant increase in feeling out of control in multiple areas. These areas may include dealing with a loss in job/change in job structure or location, financial burdens, lack of resources or supplies, closings of recreational activities and groups, and lack of connection and socializing. As a result, this can increase isolation, symptoms of depression and anxiety, lack of self care, decline in managing daily responsibilities, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and increase in eating disorder behaviors. How may these changes affect your eating disorder recovery?
Being quarantined leads to isolation and lack of connection. This can increase feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, irritability, restlessness, and an array of other emotions. Additionally, the restrictions in movement and exercise may perpetuate the fear of gaining weight, maximize the amount of body checking, and ultimately lead to urges or engagement in restricting food in an effort to control weight gain.
Additionally, many people are stocking up on food due to supplies quickly running out at stores as well as limiting time spent at markets. With this said, kitchen cabinets are filled more with foods that could trigger binge eating behavior. Those in recovery may have specific meal plans but may have to change where they shop and what foods they purchase. As someone in recovery from an eating disorder, we are taught how to stray from ‘safe foods’ and learn there is no”good” or “bad”. With that said, I have experienced complete terror when attempting to buy 2% milk instead of 30 calorie almond milk. I have a vivid memory of standing in the dairy aisle for 10 minutes just trying to gain the courage to fight my ED mind and buy what my body needed for nutrition. So, I get it my fellow ED warriors. For someone in early recovery, the sudden change may feel catastrophic. It may lead to avoiding buying food all together and/or restricting. However, there are plenty of options and alternatives that will meet a given meal plan, I promise you (this does not include medical reasons for food choices). Remind yourself that not every meal is going to be perfectly balanced.
Personally, a big trigger of mine is isolation and boredom. I had a tendency to overeat to compensate for loneliness and lack of stimulation. I would temporarily feel better, of course, but guilt and shame inevitably followed. Because of the guilt from bingeing, I would often compensate by restricting the following day in an attempt to alleviate those feelings. Again, I would temporarily feel better but risked bingeing at night which led to further guilt. Ultimately, this perpetuated the cycle. The social distancing, gym closures, and increase in mental health issues also make it difficult to break the cycle. Also, sudden job losses and financial burdens can hinder individuals from receiving therapy or taking a hiatus until it becomes more affordable. There are many free webinars, talks, groups, and services that are popping up all over the internet. Check out some links at the bottom of this site as well our page on eating disorders. Reach out to us for a consultation and support. Call or email. You can read more about Marissa Mangual here who specializes in treatment of disordered eating.
Coping in Isolation with an Eating Disorder
Online Support Groups
Mindful and Multicultural Counseling Clinical Team
Therapists and psychologists committed to improving well being and mindful living.