Scouring the Internet, you will find thousands of articles directed to coping with eating disorders or disordered eating behaviors (DEB) during the holidays- but what about navigating your recovery during quarantine? Being isolated within your home exacerbates this daily struggle for anyone who has a difficult relationship with food. Isolation, stock piling, and the uncertainty surrounding the duration of this stay at home order can cause those in ED recovery to backslide.
Our daily lives have been largely interrupted by the Covid-19 outbreak, that much is undeniable. Time can feel like it is crawling at a snail’s pace, and the amount of time available to us is much more unstructured comparatively to our normal. This extra time may make mindless snacking more accessible. To combat this, try placing your snacks into bowls or plate them. This will prevent you from insentiently eating from the bag. Eating at designated locations can also improve your consumption habits, sitting at the table can create a specific zone for food other than your bed or your couch. This helps instill the mindset that meals are important and crucial, not an option to negotiate with your negative self-talk. Designating this space will separate your meals from places where relaxation should be the goal- like your bed or the couch. This clear delineation will stress the importance of mealtime and leisure time so your eating disorder will not blend the two.
Challenge your impulse control by practicing the five-minute rule. Binge eating can be used as a source of comfort during these uncertain times, but this behavior is unhealthy and can easily become a problem even for those who have not experienced an eating disorder before. You may not be able to delay the binge entirely, but that is alright. Change does not happen overnight, and the goal for this delay is to create new habits for your brain. Try drawing or reading for five minutes or play a fun game on your phone to interrupt the pattern of binge eating.
Talk to people about how you are feeling. Eating disorders contrary to what most people think are typically oriented around an avoidance of feelings, which in turn creates isolation, secrets and avoidance of those close to you. Food will forever be a part of your life that you engage with every day, and that can be a frightening thing for those in recovery for these behaviors. Speaking with someone close to you about your anxieties and fears can help alleviate the need for control that many people suffering from these disorders are looking to dispel. You may even try having meals with those who are not in your home via Facetime or Skype, this will help you remain accountable for your meal consumption and ease the anxiety surrounded by mealtime. If you are quarantined with others, try to form happy scheduled meals to enjoy with them. This will again reshape your thinking behaviors with food, instead of meals being associated with negativity and anxiety, your brain will learn to associate these times with laughter and shared experience.
Curtail your social media exposure. Social media can be a tricky place for those who are struggling with their body image during regular times but add that to our inability to spend time outside the home combatting these images with enjoyed activities can be detrimental. There are plenty of memes circulating about Quarantine Weight Gain and although these seem innocent enough, they can be triggering for those suffering from DEB. Eliminating all social media may be too isolating during this time for those struggling, so try following a few accounts to break up the feed you are exposed to. Eating disorder recovery pages are a dime a dozen on Instagram and Facebook, following just three of those will make enough of a disruption to help you feel better while you scroll through. Cutting back your social media exposure may be necessary at this time but remain gentle with yourself.
Allow yourself to eat your favorite foods. Remember, the key here is moderation not elimination. Your favorite cookies are safe and alright to eat but try not to eat the entire sleeve. If you remove these things entirely, your body may feel deprived which can lead to relapses and binging. All or nothing thinking is common with those who suffer from DEB, which can translate to all or nothing restrictive habits. We are looking for the middle ground here! Do not beat yourself up for enjoying foods you may have previously deemed bad. Emotions should not be ascribed to foods; they are a source of substance and energy. You can also try interrupting your cravings for by snacking on a mix of ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ foods, try some carrot sticks and ranch around lunch and the cookies after dinner. This will not only keep you fuller for longer, but it will train your brain to accept varieties of food which can be a difficult concept for those who have previously eliminated certain food groups entirely. Reintroduction slowly is a huge part of the recovery process.
Our favorite suggestion, because we are biased, reach out to a professional! A licensed therapist or counselor may just be the ticket to navigating these difficult times with your eating disorder. Online therapy has never been more accessible or covered by insurances as it is right now so taking advantage of this is crucial. You may feel guilty confiding your fears with those who are your family or friends, maybe you have been in recovery for a long time and you worry they may misinterpret your anxieties surrounding food now as a relapse. Sharing these concerns with a professional can keep you accountable without the pressure of adding fear to those you love in your daily life.
Lastly, remember, everyone is struggling during these times. You are not alone in feeling new or old anxieties resurfacing. More people than ever are struggling with old coping behaviors and habits. No one has it all together, we are all experiencing a huge number of transitions and changes to our routine which has a direct impact on our anxiety levels. With so many things changing, remind yourself that it will return to normal eventually. Your eating disorder will never truly go away and be patient because that is not the goal of recovery. Recovery is a beautiful thing, but it is about dealing with the cravings and habits and finding healthy ways to work with them, not against them.