As if eating disorders themselves weren’t challenging enough to handle, patients have been handed a whole new challenge in the form of a pandemic needing social distancing. The corona pandemic is changing our complete way of living. For those with disordered eating and eating disorders, it creates new disruptions and stressors to treatment plans .
How Treatment May Be Impacted During This Time
Because of the risk of infection, it appears that all but a few providers of the lower levels of care-intensive outpatient, individual outpatient, and partial hospitalization programs—are moving to virtual treatment models, meaning that patients have video conferencing sessions from home.
Some of these programs typically provide up to eleven hours per day of programming along with diet. Patients in such programs will now be staying at home and have a higher responsibility for their diet .
Strategies for Coping
Accept your emotions and know that you are not alone. Remember that it’s okay to feel unmoored and overwhelmed. We all feel this way. This is an unprecedented period that none of us have dealt with before.
Allow space to mourn your losses. Whether you are a college student whose graduation activities and senior spring semester have been canceled, a high school senior whose prom has been canceled, a spouse whose partner is a healthcare worker treating people with the illness or a person who has lost a job or a parent who will not see their child graduate, or, we are all facing tremendous losses presently.
Allow yourself space to grieve and experience an array of emotions that ensue.
Ask for help. If you’ve been procrastinating getting help for your eating disorder or are experiencing increased anxiety, now is an excellent period to reach out.
[Also Read: Coping with COVID-19, Now & Then]
There are numerous dietitians, therapists, and treatment centers, providing services through telehealth. Besides, many treatment centers have incorporated virtual support groups, and many providers are offering meal support via Instagram live or Facebook live.
Recognize that online therapy works. If viewing your doctor, therapist, or dietitian over the laptop is new to you, recognize that there is a good and long history of treatment being offered this way. The first video telepsychiatry link happened in 1997.
Studies indicate that telehealth is appropriate for multiple populations and can be as powerful as sessions delivered in person. It may just take a little adjustment.
1. Stay Connected
Eating disorders flourish in isolation, so stay connected to your support system. Now more than ever, we require our support. Even though we’re distancing socially, we are social beings who require a connection. Use the internet to connect with friends, family, and people in your professional life.
Don’t just text but do video chats and facetime. Have a video meal with a friend. Many people are having Netflix watch parties, online cocktail parties, and the like.
2. Create a Routine
Most people do well with structure. Prepare a routine that involves getting up, getting dressed, and doing something daily that feels productive. Your new regimen should include your mealtimes—this is very important for people and everyone with either past or current disordered eating behaviors.
3. Plan Your Meals
An eating disorder recovery plan includes three meals a day and two to three snacks, evenly spaced throughout the day. It would be great if you always had a general idea of when and what your next snack or meal will be. This applies to everyone, but particularly those struggling with disordered eating behaviors.
[Also Read: Healthy Meal Plan During Quarantine]
4. Face Your Fear of Foods
The foods you will require during the pandemic may be the very foods you have avoided and fear. Those sustaining shelf-stable foods like rice and pasta, bread, potatoes, crackers, and chips are most comfortable to load up on and keep for prolonged periods. Frozen and canned foods and processed foods are all fine.
5. Practice Self-Compassion
It’s not surprising that you are feeling soothed and overwhelmed yourself with food. Accept that eating to self-soothe can be a smart way to cope. But, if it’s our only coping skill, it can help learn to use some other coping skills. Try to resist urges to compensate.
6. Consider Moderate Exercise
This is where it gets personal. If workouts were a part of your eating disorder, this might be an excellent time for a planned break. Take it! You are not needed to exercise.
If we are far enough along in recovery and exercise has not been a part of our eating disorder, or our team has said it is okay to reintroduce exercise. You may continue with some moderate warm up exercise as you wish.
[Also Read: How Much Should You Exercise To Boost Your Immunity]
7. Addressing Body Image
Time at home can offer a temporary respite for those who feared being judged about their appearance. You may want just to get dressed. That’s fine. But if you observe that it makes you feel worse about your body, consider getting dressed and groomed as you would normally—limit body checking.
8. Challenge Diet Culture
Do not crack jokes about how much weight you are going to put on during social distancing. This adds unnecessarily to people’s worries and is fat-phobic, and honestly should be the least of your collective concerns. Weight stigma is a health risk aspect that doesn’t need to be added to the pile.
9. Family Support
If you are a parent and your young adult or teen has moved home with you or has come home from treatment, you can play a crucial role. Parent-assisted treatments, such as family-based treatments, can be useful.
10. Take Extra Precautions
People with eating disorders may be at greater risk from the virus, so please take extra precautions to protect those people with eating disorders in your life or yourself.
11. Practice or Learn New Coping Skills
Try to get regular sleep. Do some meditation or relaxation. Try to get enough time outdoors when you can. Take time to relax. Be patient with yourself. Having a toolkit of healthy coping skills can help you better handle the stress you feel.
These are indeed tough times. We don’t necessarily have all the solutions. But we are all in this together, and we will surely get through it.