The coronavirus pandemic has evoked a sense of living in an eerie, uncertain, and unpredictable dream. We all need to do our part to carry out public health recommendations to reduce the spread of COVID-19 (i.e., keeping a safe distance from others, practicing proper hand-washing and hygiene techniques, staying at home). But for those who struggle with an eating disorder, the isolation, stockpiling of food, empty grocery store shelves, along with a general sense of heightened stress and anxiety, can be a living nightmare. Indeed, eating disorders tend to develop insidiously in hiding, as a person becomes more isolated with their illness. Concerns about food scarcity and stockpiling food can create enough tension and anxiety to lead to
Although this can be a challenging time for those who struggle with an eating disorder, there are strategies to help ease, cope with, and tolerate the distress:
Maintain a (flexible) schedule and plan
Having a structure to our days can be hugely beneficial to our sense of security and stability. Maintaining regular meal and snack times can offer grounding anchor points throughout the day. Further, having a meal plan can reduce anxiety during this time when food-buying patterns are shifting. Building flexibility into that schedule and plan, however, can help to reduce the likelihood that rigidity and perfectionism flare, both of which may trigger eating disorder symptoms. For example, this might mean creating a meal plan with multiple options for meals and snacks, so that limited food available at the grocery store is less likely to create panic and distress.
Connect with your physical self outside of exercise
Physical activity can be soothing and regulating. For those with compulsive exercise urges, however, connecting to our physical self in forms outside of exertive training might help to limit these urges. For example, stretching, deep breathing, or body-based guided meditations and mindfulness exercises can help to feel a greater connection to our body.
Engage in tactile and sensory activities to cope with and manage eating disorder urges (e.g., crafting, drawing, playing an instrument, doing a puzzle).
Much of an eating disorder exists inside our internal worlds – doing something external by engaging our senses can help to shift our focus away from eating disorder thoughts and urges.
Limit time on social media
Being inundated with overwhelming and conflicting messages on social media can contribute to heightened anxiety, depression, and unhelpful social comparison. Putting boundaries on scrolling through social media can help to prevent this spiral.
Seek connection and support
Although many in-person support groups have closed, online support groups may be available. Further, many clinicians are continuing to offer assistance through video and/or phone therapy sessions. The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (nedic.ca) runs a helpline and instant chat for those needing support. Hours are available on their website. Connecting in with loved ones and talking about our struggles can also help to soothe the distress associated with an eating disorder. Asking a loved one to help out with grocery shopping or meal prep may reduce the related stress, while also offering opportunities to feel connected to and supported by others.
Be compassionate towards yourself
Eating disorders are notoriously harsh and critical. Gently approaching yourself with moments of self-compassion and kindness, acknowledging that this is a difficult time, and validating the struggle you are experiencing, can be a quietly powerful way to help weather this perfect storm.
Clinicians at CFIR can support you in working with issues of weight and emotional eating.
Dr. Jean Kim, Ph.D., C.Psych. is a clinical psychologist at CFIR’s Toronto location. Over the past eight years, Dr. Kim has had the opportunity to work alongside people as they develop a greater understanding of themselves and their relationships. She has specific interests and training in working with people who struggle with disordered eating, weight, body image concerns, as well as those who are experiencing the challenges of integrating their cultural identity.