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According to the American Psychiatric Association, someone with an Eating Disorder (ED) will experience disturbances in their eating habits. The disorders will also affect how people think and feel about eating, food, and spend a lot of time and energy thinking about food and how much they weigh. They usually have a complicated relationship with food and only eat certain types or brands of food. They might only eat at a particular time of the day with a strict routine. Social isolation and increased anxiety are also some factors that may interrupt recovery.
There are three main EDs:
- Anorexia Nervosa
- Bulimia Nervosa
- Binge Eating Disorder
There are many more types of EDs and disordered eating tendencies but may not always fit into specific categories. EDs are mental health conditions, and people who suffer from them also suffer from other mental health issues like anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or drug and alcohol use disorders. However, this is not always the case.
How COVID-19 affects people with an ED
Some people may feel isolated due to social distancing, which can lead to a range of emotions. The most common effects of social distancing are anxiety, depression, and loneliness. A common reaction to a trigger for someone who suffers from an ED can be binge eating, purging, taking laxatives, or excessive exercise. Some people with EDs can also experience social anxiety, and physical distancing measures can make it harder for them to manage that symptom.
With the current situation in our world, routines have been interrupted, and that can throw anybody’s day off. Routines can be an essential part of recovery. It can outline when and what to eat, as well as when and how to exercise. Visiting friends and attending healthcare appointments may be essential parts of the routine as well.
Making a plan
When someone with an ED experiences a trigger, there are some techniques they can use to help minimize their likelihood of engaging in harmful behaviors. Making an action plan based on the level of distress is a great idea. For example, if the measure of distress is at a 3 out of 10, then the person could call a friend for a chat, take a bath, or write in a journal. If the level of distress is at a 6 out of 10, the person could ask an ED organization, trusted healthcare professional, or a close family member for support.
Someone suffering with an ED may want to share what they are feeling with a trusted friend and/or family member and want to keep in touch Someone suffering from an ED may want to share what they are feeling with a trusted friend and/or family member and want to keep in touch during lockdown measures. Video, telephone calls, and social media are all great ways to stay in touch. Talking with a therapist may be beneficial as well. Therapists and mental health professionals may offer video or telephone call appointments.
Setting a routine, and sticking to it
Some people have found that setting a routine has helped. It may include a regular meal plan, exercise schedule, and set times for work and/or hobbies.
Writting it down
Many people with an ED find it helpful to write down a list of reasons why they want to stay in recovery. They can keep it somewhere easy to see, like a noticeboard or the fridge door.
The things people find comforting will vary among individuals, but some ways to self-soothe may include:
- listening to music
- taking a warm bath
- speaking to a friend
- limiting social media intake
- going for a walk, if possible
- spending time with a companion animal, such as a dog or cat
- reading a chapter of a book
Where to find support
There are many different organizations offering support to people with EDs during the COVID-19 crisis. Check out this list:
- National Eating Disorders Association
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
- Mirror Mirror
How to help someone else
A person with an ED may find it hard to talk about their feelings or how the People with an ED may find it hard to talk about their feelings or how the lockdown or other corona-virus safety measures have affected them. Friends and family members who want to help can try giving their loved one that is struggling with an ED, opportunities to open up. They can also work with their loved ones on how to avoid triggers. It may mean finding an acceptable alternative to an unavailable food product or avoiding stockpiling food at home.
This help guide has a couple of recommendations on how families can help.
- Setting a positive example by eating nutritious, balanced meals and avoiding some language such as “diet/dieting”
- Encouraging the whole family – even if the person with an ED is not eating – to sit down and enjoy a meal together
- Avoiding attempts to force them to eat
- Promoting self-esteem with encouragement and compliments that DO NOT focus on a person’s weight
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