COVID-19: Tips for people with an eating disorder

With COVID-19 being the main focus of the media, our social media feeds, and conversation within our community it’s normal to feel anxious or uneasy about what this means for you.

In times of uncertainty and with social isolations being encouraged, it is easy to feel alone. It’s important to remember that we are all in this together.


How does COVID-19 affect someone experiencing an eating disorder?

The current COVID-19 situation is challenging for everyone, and we understand that the prevalent discussions around stock-piling food, increased hygiene measures, food shortages and lock-ins can be incredibly distressing and triggering for people experiencing disordered eating or an eating disorder.

As everyone responds differently to their environment, we encourage those who are struggling at this time to contact their treatment professionals and support people. In the event you do not have these teams or people in place (and even if you do!), we encourage anyone who needs to talk through their concerns and current challenges to contact Lois Bridges based in Dublin, Ireland.

Many of the tips below involve contacting a treatment or health professional. For those currently receiving face-to-face treatment or therapy, you might like to consider arranging remote Zoom/Skype/Teams sessions with your treatment team.

Stock-piling food: These words may be incredibly triggering for people who may be recovering from binge and/or binge-purge behaviours. For the safety of the person experiencing an eating disorder it may be necessary to move food to an area that is unable to be accessed.  For people who live alone, consider whether you can stay with family members or friends during any periods of social isolation.

Hygiene measures: All health authorities are encouraging hygiene measures to be implemented as a number one protective factor against virus transmission. For some people experiencing eating disorders and have obsessive behaviours around hygiene this may be triggering information. The recommendation is to wash hands with soap for 20 seconds.

Food shortages: For people experiencing an eating disorder, this information can be incredibly distressing. In the event a person has a prescribed snack/meal plan, some foods may not be able to purchased, or fresh food not so readily available. We encourage carers or people experiencing the eating disorder to contact their health professional to seek advice on a Plan B and even a Plan C for their existing meal/snack/eating plan.  Preparation is key so allowing more time to prepare for the meal/snack changes may help to reduce potential anxiety.

Potential lock-ins or closure of sporting/health and fitness centres: For some people experiencing an eating disorder, the closure of these facilities can also be incredibly triggering and distressing.  It may also drive increased eating disorder thinking and behaviours in relation to exercise and activity. It is important that you contact their health professional if you are feeling distressed or anxious.

General increased anxiety and feelings of helplessness: This is a unique and unprecedented time in modern history. It is natural to feel worried, concerned, or experience any other emotion about the current situation. For people experiencing an eating disorder these feelings may be heightened. Again, speaking to a health professional to talk through your feelings is recommended.

What you can do to support yourself, instead of your eating disorder:

  • Switch off media and social media – the intense coverage and conflicting messaging being shared across all platforms can increase feelings of anxiety and depression and also contribute to an increase in eating disorder thinking and behaviours. Ensure you seek and adhere to the information from reputable sources in relation to the best course of action (these include the government health authorities).
  • We get it. When you feel overwhelmed, down or anxious, it can be really difficult to ‘take action’ and do things that can help you to improve your mood and thinking. We encourage you to try and do the positive things that work for you and can lift your mood.  These are free and can have an incredible impact on how you feel. You do you, but here are some things that are positive strategies to improve mental health:

– Listen to music, upbeat of course. Singing along optional!

– Gentle stretching or movement to music (ensure that movement is as per current recommendations from your treatment team or health professional)

– Drawing and art can be a positive way to distract thinking or express moods.

– Breathing and mindfulness techniques can help manage feelings of stress. There are some wonderful free apps that provide guided meditations or mindfulness practices;  Meditation & Sleep is an excellent, evidence based app developed by our friends at headspace.

  • Find things to be positive about. It is easy during challenging times to default to negative thinking.  Write down 1 thing each day that you are grateful for and remind yourself of this as often as you need. It’s not the solution; but adding some positivity into your thinking can be incredibly helpful.
  • Talk it out. You are not alone, and battling or struggling through your thinking during this time is not fair or reasonable. Talk to someone you trust about your concerns or talk to a health professional.
  • Reading is a great way to help relax your mind.

Remember to be kind to yourself – you are stronger than you think, braver than you know and can and will get through this challenging period – take it one moment and thought at a time! We’re all in this together.

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