The coronavirus continues to cause a lot of fear and anxiety for numerous people around the world. The uncertainty of when this pandemic will end is anxiety-provoking for everyone, not least those who are recovering from an eating disorder.
Anxiety is a known characteristic of eating disorders (hence the medical terminology anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa). Previous research suggested that engaging in eating disorder behaviors was associated with a reduction in anxiety and vice versa. Although the benefits are transitory, these behaviors can provide a fleeting sense of control and comfort to some individuals in recovery. So as many are regaining control from their eating disorder, the anxiety surrounding COVID-19 could make individuals more likely to relapse and revert to their prior eating behaviors.
The lack of control and unexpected changes in schedules because of COVID-19 can be very challenging. A common way of managing stress and anxiety is utilizing physical activity as an outlet. Unfortunately, health fitness centers have decreased hours of operation and there have been more barriers to access. An inability to attend a yoga class or gym workout—an emotional and mental outlet as well as a physical one—could be detrimental to individuals who are in the process of creating a positive relationship with their body.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are no nationwide shortages of food; however, the limitations on certain products that many have encountered during the pandemic can be distressing. This is specifically relevant to those who have a prescribed daily meal plan as part of their recovery.
As people continue to avoid large crowds and self-isolate, many have turned to their cell phones and social media for distraction and entertainment. Although there are mental health benefits to social media during this time, platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat are more visually oriented and can evoke negative thoughts for an individual with an eating disorder. The increased social media exposure can be a risk for relapse. For example, “COVID-15” has been a trending concept (a reference to weight gain, similar to the “freshman 15”), as individuals post photos of themselves before and during COVID-19 isolation. Photos circulating on the internet can be triggering to people on the road to recovery and pose a risk for re-engaging in eating disorder behaviors such as bingeing, skipping a meal, or over-exercising.
Ways to Maintain a Balanced Lifestyle
Being open-minded is extremely important during times of uncertainty. Here are ways to maintain a balanced lifestyle during COVID-19:
- Food: Take some time to go through your cabinets and create a menu for the week using food you have on hand. Practice flexibility and be prepared to substitute food within the same food group.
- Exercise: Enjoy a solitary walk outside in the fresh air. Be aware of urges to over-exercise, and make movement goals for the week. Focus on coordination, balance, breathing, strength and stamina.
- Technology: Schedule a virtual hang-out with friends and family using Zoom or FaceTime. Limit your time on social media and acknowledge triggers.
- Practice: Revisit your Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy handouts. It is a perfect time to refresh your memory and practice grounding techniques.
- Structure: Create your own schedule during the outbreak. This may include breakfast, lunch, and dinner times as well as other activities for the day.
- Resources: Ensure the information you use is from trustworthy sources such as National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) or National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC)
It is all easier said than done—but staying mindful of our emotions and triggers during this time can help us maintain our recovery. Reach out for support from your team, loved ones, and friends. You can do this!
About the Authors:
Kimberly George, RD is a registered dietitian who promotes normalized, balanced eating. She loves helping others achieve their wellness and health goals without sacrificing their relationship with food or their body. She believes in body positivity and all foods fit in moderation. Kimberly works part-time in Veteran’s Affairs Community Based Outpatient Clinic and is a Campus Dietitian at SUNY Potsdam and Canton campuses.
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