Friday 3 April 2020

Managing an Eating Disorder During COVID-19

Bryony sheds some light on some of the difficulties those suffering with eating disorders may be experiencing in light of the current global health crisis. She also offers some advice on how to help yourself and what you could ask others to do to help you.
- Bryony

There is absolutely no doubt that whilst the COVID-19 pandemic we are experiencing at the moment is having unprecedented effects on the physical health of people all over the world, that there will also be an equally unprecedented impact on mental health. However, once the pandemic is over, at least the constant threat we live under will have dissipated and our daily lives will return to normal. However, the pandemic’s detrimental impact on mental health means that many of us won’t be able to bounce back right away. 

Whilst there has rightly been a lot of attention paid to mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and OCD following the self-isolation and lockdowns associated with this global health crisis, I feel less attention has been given to how this is likely to affect people with eating disorders. Given the variety of eating disorders that may be affected by this crisis, I wanted to take a little bit of time to discuss how they may be affected by the pandemic and offer some advice on how to manage as best you can until this is all over. A small number of articles have been published by brilliant organisations, such as BEAT, outlining how people with both Anorexia and Bulimia, some of the better known eating disorders, are being affected by the current crisis. 

For example, people with Bulimia have reported some anxieties regarding the recent prevalence of food-hoarding which occurs when people stockpile food in unnecessary mass quantities, wiping shops out of all the essentials. For those with Bulimia, this can be triggering because not only are there large quantities of foods to potentially binge on in the home, we are being told to stay in the home with the food all day, making this very difficult to manage. 

With Anorexia on the other hand, some people have reported that they find it very unsettling to watch people engage in mass food-hoarding because it may mean that they are unable to access their typical safe foods or are having to eat foods they do not yet feel comfortable with, producing large amounts of anxiety and distress. 

In addition to the issues related to food, since the isolation and lockdown principles have been enforced, people who suffer from eating disorders have found themselves deprived of many coping mechanisms and distractions which they rely on on a daily basis. For example, the gyms are shut, we aren’t allowed in busy parks or nature reserves, and we can only leave the house once a day. We’re also prohibited from visiting friends or family who we might rely on for support. Likewise, those who find comfort in the distraction of attending school have also had this opportunity ripped away from them. 

And even though the nation’s safety is our top priority right now, that doesn’t make these losses any less painful or any easier to bear. That’s why I wanted to provide some tips on what we can do to manage our anxiety and cultivate healthy eating habits while engaging in safe social distancing practices. These techniques are helping me at the moment and my hope is that they will be helpful to others as well. I have also included some examples of things you can ask others to do if you need support during this time.

What You Can Do to Help Yourself
  • Go for a walk in a quiet place (implementing the social distancing regulations) to take your mind off things for a little while. You could even go for a run, depending on what is most appropriate and safe for you at the moment!
  • Participate in one of the many varieties of home workouts available online. If you’ve ever wanted to try yoga, HIIT, Zumba, strength or conditioning, now is the perfect time! (As long as it’s safe for you to do so, of course).
  • Watch a film or TV series to zone out for a little while. 
  • Read a book 
  • Take each day one at a time. 
  • Keep going with your meal plan/routine. We still need to eat regularly despite the change to our regular routines. 
  • Practice the self-care routines of your preference. 
  • Talk to people about how you’re feeling, whether that be with professionals or with friends or family.
  • Facetime a friend! Maybe even arrange to do something together like watch the same film. 
What Others Can Do to Help You 
  • Be understanding, this is an unsettling time for everyone but in some cases, those with eating disorders might need a little bit of extra support during this time. 
  • Work with you to see how best to try and reduce any anxiety they are experiencing. 
  • Make a meal plan, consider alternatives to your usual foods so you have time to process and cope with this, don’t make a big deal of how much food is in the house or store the food in taunting places. 
  • Try not to get frustrated. 
  • Listen. 
  • Go with you on walks or work out with you, virtually or in person.
For more information Student Space is here to make it easier for you to find the support you need during the coronavirus pandemic.

For more information on coping with eating disorders, please click here.

Hey, I'm Bryony. I am a 4th year Clinically Applied Psychology Student at the University of Exeter. Following my own challenges with an eating disorder, I want to use my story to help others in similar situations. I was really keen to write for the Student Minds Blog as it’s a great opportunity to do just that!

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