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