AUSTIN, Texas — Staying home and physically distancing from others during COVID-19 can be tough for anyone, but it's especially difficult for those recovering from an eating disorder. At least 30 million people of all ages and genders in the U.S. report significant eating disorder symptoms over a lifetime. Stressful life circumstances, such as forced isolation, can make them flare up. The medical consequences and psychological struggles that accompany anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorders can quickly get worse.
“Food is a necessary resource for all of us to have and there’s been more challenges to being able to get certain foods,” said Dr. Allison Chase, a certified eating disorder specialist and regional managing clinical director of the Eating Recovery Center.
Eating Recovery Center is offering intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization programming online.
“We’ve taken all of our knowledge across all of the disciplines that we work with and we have created a virtual program in order to help support these patients that at home,” said Dr. Chase.
Here are some strategies for coping while at home due to COVID-19:
Accept your feelings and know that you are not alone—Remember that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and unmoored. We all feel this way. This is an unprecedented time that none of us have dealt with before.
Allow space to mourn your losses—Whether you are a high school senior whose prom has been canceled, a college student whose senior spring semester and graduation activities have been canceled, a parent who will not see your child graduate, a person who has lost a job, or a spouse whose partner is a healthcare worker treating people with the illness, we are all facing enormous losses right now. Allow yourself space to grieve and experience the whole range of emotions that ensue.
Ask for help—If you’ve been putting off getting help for your eating disorder or are experiencing increased anxiety, now is a good time to reach out. There are numerous therapists, dietitians and treatment centers providing services through telehealth. In addition, many treatment centers have added virtual support groups and many providers are offering meal support via Facebook live or Instagram live.
Stay Connected -- Eating disorders thrive in isolation, so stay connected to your support system. Now more than ever, we need our supports. Even though we’re social distancing, we are social beings who need connection. Use the internet to connect with family, friends, and people in your professional life. Don’t just text but do FaceTime and video chats. Have a video meal with a friend. Many people are having online cocktail parties, Netflix watch parties, and the like.
Create a Routine -- Most people do better with structure. Create a routine that involves getting up, getting dressed, and doing something every day that feels productive. Your new routine should include your mealtimes—this is very important for everyone, but also people with either current or past disordered eating behaviors.
Plan Your Meals -- An eating disorder recovery plan includes 3 meals a day and 2 to 3 snacks evenly spaced throughout the day. You should always have a general idea of what and when your next meal or snack will be. This applies to everyone, but especially those struggling with disordered eating behaviors.
- Both the Eating Recovery Center and Eating Disorder Foundation have virtual support groups! The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has compiled a list of low cost virtual groups as well.
- NEDA has also put together a video series for COVID-specific coping tools, including this video with Jennifer Rollins, MSW, LCSW, discussing recovery during a pandemic.
- There are also a lot of great smartphone apps that can be helpful tools in recovery for you. I’ve also included some of my favorites in this roundup.
- Many eating disorder professionals offer virtual sessions. You can search for one in this database.
- There’s an Instagram, @covid19eatingsupport, that offers live meal support every few hours!