Coping with an eating disorder during the coronavirus outbreak

An eating disorder often thrives on loneliness, uncertainty and anxiety, all the elements that are heightened during those extraordinary times of this Coronavirus pandemic. As a result, someone with an eating disorder could be faced with even more struggles amid this COVID-19 outbreak. To help and support individuals with an eating disorder or disordered eating patterns, we have identified a few of the issues that could arise during these challenging times and provided you with some coping strategies.

Do you feel that loneliness is triggering negative impacts on how you eat?

Eating disorder thoughts can be more present when you are alone or have more time on your hands.

While it is important to follow the safety guidelines, it is even more essential that you keep in touch with your surroundings. Try to stay connected with your family, friends and healthcare professional using the phone and the internet. In this way, you will feel less lonely in your battle against the eating disorder voice that you hear in your head.

Also, to occupy your mind, think of distractions that you enjoy engaging into such as reading, going for walks, listening to music, playing videogames, etc.

If you feel lonely during mealtimes, you can join on Instagram a community of therapists and dietitians specialized in eating disorders (@covid19eatingsupport) who eat with you live on Instagram. For French-speaking people, another group of dietitians @onmangeensemble also offer support on Instagram during meal times to break isolation.

You can also use the free phone line offered by ANEB, a non-profit organizing whose mission is to provide support to anyone suffering from an eating disorder.

Are you afraid to lose control and have the urge to binge-eat while self-isolating?

First and foremost, it is important to accept and normalize your emotions; it is completely understandable that you feel more stressed, anxious, sad and overwhelmed these days. For many of us, turning to food for comfort is a coping mechanism to deal with the emotions that we go through and it is normal to do so.

The less guilty you feel about emotional eating, the more you will be connected to your body. You will then be able to savor more your foods and be more in tune with your fullness cues, therefore decreasing the frequency and extent of the binge-eating episodes.

While emotional eating is perfectly fine, it can be a bit more problematic if it’s your only coping mechanism. If that’s the case, try to think of other activities that will help you feel better.

Another helping tool is to maintain a structure while you are a home.

Keeping your 3 meals and snacks as needed during the day will give your body the signal that it is still being fed even though your daily routine has been disturbed. This will prevent you from feeling famished at times, which could be a trigger for compulsive eating.

What can I do if I’m not able to get hold of my safe foods at the grocery store?

An eating disorder loves to stay in its comfort zone. But there might be chances that your grocery store is running low on your “safe” foods or that you cannot go as often to purchase them.

In case you do not find your safe foods at the store, it will be helpful and handy to come up with a backup plan. Try to think of other food substitutes which won’t be triggering too much anxiety for you to buy and keep in the house. If you lack ideas for substitutes, you can talk to your healthcare professional about meal planning.

While maintaining the physical distancing guidelines, you can also ask your support system if they have your missing foods or if they can pick them up at a store for you.

Now that the gym is closed, I’m worried that I won’t be able to exercise enough

Oftentimes, the need to exercise (sometimes compulsively) is part of an eating disorder. Therefore, it is important to authorize yourself to rest and relax.

Remember that you don’t need to burn calories for you to be able to eat. You still need to eat to be alive and for your body’s daily functions such as breathing, maintaining a steady body temperature, etc.

If you feel the need to move, think of moderate exercises such as walking or yoga and try to focus on an activity that is enjoyable instead of thinking of physical activity as a means to control your weight.

You fear you will gain weight during the confinement

Many media outlets talk about nutrition strategies or how to workout at home to avoid weight gain during this quarantine. These videos, pictures or articles can just exacerbate the eating disorder voice and lead to more food restriction and may be binge-eating behaviors.

To mute those damaging messages, try limiting your time spent on social media or unfollow accounts that you recognize as harmful with regards to your eating disorder.

Going through this pandemic is undoubtedly very challenging and during these difficult times, people with disordered eating or eating disorders have to face even more their demons. Do not hesitate to seek help if you feel the need to do so.

You are not alone and we are in this together!