Advice for staying on a positive recovery path
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, social distancing has been promoted as the main way to combat the spread of the virus. This can lead to loneliness. However, while we are all vulnerable to feelings of isolation, for those who suffer from an eating disorder, this can trigger unhealthy behaviours and affect recovery.
Often described as a secretive disorder, withdrawal from friends and activities are warning signs of an eating disorder that the National Eating Disorders Association says should be monitored and looked out for. But now, some people have no choice but to stay away from others.
“When you are isolated, it becomes very easy for the eating disorder to slip in,” said Amy Peters, who has been in recovery for eight months. “At first, you may not notice it, but because you are isolated, you feel unable to do anything about it. It feels safe.”
Peters is practicing social distancing by working highly reduced hours, most of which are computer based, not meeting with anyone and not participating in social and leisure activities. To help her stay on track with recovery, she is doing therapy sessions through Skype, and getting support from her family to stay accountable. However, she does still have some concerns about having to rely on whatever food is available in the grocery store.
For many people with eating disorders, packaged and processed foods can be challenging to eat. “It can be really difficult for people in eating disorder recovery to not have access to safe foods, or the foods they feel more comfortable eating,” Peters said.
Natalie Mulligan, founder of EatWell Eating Disorder Clinic in Toronto says that although this is a difficult time, it can also be an opportunity to challenge eating disorder beliefs around some foods.
“Right now, pivoting the way you’re eating is an important step in recovery,” Mulligan said. “Understanding it’s not permanent, but just finding an ability to get comfortable with it.”
Kathryn MacFarlane has been in recovery for almost two and a half years. She says that not being able to partake in her regular activities will be a challenge.
“I go to a lot of spin classes, that’s one of my main mental health coping strategies,” MacFarlane said. “Not being able to do anything like that is really hard.”
Eating regular meals and snacks, as well as following several body positive accounts on platforms like Instagram, are two methods MacFarlane says help to cope with the change in routine. “Also realizing the fact that just because you’re not necessarily doing as much as you normally do, doesn’t mean you don’t need to still feed your body the same way,” MacFarlane said.
Mulligan suggests other tips to help keep on track to recovery, such as creating a daily schedule, staying connected and finding activities that nourish you outside of food. For some people who may have extra time on their hands, Mulligan says this can be a good chance to try and foster a new habit such as yoga or meditation. “Having things in your calendar to look forward to, and then following the same structure you would every other day would be my biggest piece of advice,” Mulligan said.
Finding a sense of normalcy while recognizing that this is also a time of uncertainty are hard things to balance. For MacFarlane, she suggests trying to be kind to yourself. “It’s not going to be forever,” she said.