Corona Virus Diaries: Episode 3— Eating Disorders in a Pandemic
Updated: Jun 16, 2020
Today I want to talk about something pretty personal, something different from the usual topics I cover on this blog. The topic is eating disorders during a pandemic.
For those of you know me well, you know that I’ve struggled with an eating disorder in the past. It’s something I’m relatively open about, and I think it’s an important topic to talk about today— especially while we’re facing Covid-19.
I’ll start out my saying that last week, I had a visit from my old 'friend.' My eating disorder—which had been silent for the past 6 years of my recovery—decided to stop by and say ‘hello.’ At first, I was terrified. My head was spinning and I immediately fell into fight-or-flight mode and black-or-white thinking like: oh gosh, it’s happening again. I’m sick… and holy crap, the past 6 years are all a waste. I’m not in recovery at all...
After slowing the surging rush of emotion that was inside my head, I was able to shift the energy away from my Amygdala, the area in the brain that processes emotions, and utilize that oh-so-logical Prefrontal Cortex. This allowed me to take a step back and examine the current situation with curiosity. I asked myself the following question:
What is happening in my life that is causing my eating disorder to stop by?
The answer was simple: Covid-19 and the environment it has created.
To this day, there are many people out there who don’t understand what eating disorders are and why people get them. The best explanation I’ve ever come across comes from Carolyn Costin, an expert in the field who started the Monte Nido treatment centers in the United States. In her book, 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder, Costin explained:
“Genes load the gun and environment pulls the trigger”
So. Some people are genetically predisposed and are more susceptible to develop an eating disorder than others. That’s a fact. It’s also a fact that one’s environment has a substantial impact on the likelihood of developing a full-blown eating disorder.
Let’s take a look at the current environment the Covid-19 pandemic has created. There are 3 major categories that alone are potentially damaging, but together create a pretty nasty reality. They are Stress, Diet Culture, and Isolation.
· Change of routine
· Lack of control
· Potential financial stress
· Fear of getting Covid-19
· Fear of not getting enough food or supplies at grocery stores
· Only being allowed to leave the house for food or fitness
· Memes about weight gain and avoiding putting on the “Covid-15”
· Constant streams of online workouts and “clean” recipes to try
· Living in a society with a unhealthy weight-stigma
· Distancing yourself from friends and family
· Feelings of being alone
Now, combine this already difficult environment, and introduce it to people whose brains are wired in a more susceptible way (think of someone with a perfectionistic personality who uses all-or-nothing thinking, who may have comorbidity with anxiety and/or depression, and may feel the need to gain control) and that’s when you have a perfect storm for an eating disorder either develop or come back.
I sincerely encourage those of you who know someone who is struggling or has struggled with an eating disorder, to reach out to that person. See what support they need at the present moment, and be there for them. Additionally, be mindful of the environment you are helping to create. Are you sharing memes about weight gain on social media? Are you promoting diet culture without realizing it? Remember that all bodies are good bodies that deserve love, respect, and kindness. Yes, even yours.
If you are personally struggling with symptoms, it’s important to know that you are not alone and that you are not worth any less for struggling. Remember that it’s okay to have hard times and to focus on what you need to in order to stay well.
If you are needing immediate support, I encourage you go the website of the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support and check out their recourses. They have screening tools, a helpline for finding resources in your area, virtual support groups, virtual NEDA walks, and a video series to provide recourses and support.
It's also important to acknowledge that Covid-19 poses some immediate and staggering challenges for the eating disorder community, AND we will get through it. I know from my experience, it really was frightening to experience eating disorder related thoughts after six years of recovery. Though uncomfortable, this short visit just shows that now more than ever—it’s important to create an environment of acceptance, self-love, and compassion. If you're looking for more resources and ways to stay well, balanced, and in recovery during the Covid-19 pandemic, stay tuned for my next blog post!
Thank you for reading this post. Please stay healthy, well, and safe!