COVID-19 & Eating Disorders

I know you are probably reading the title and struggling to find a connection between a virus instigating a global pandemic, and a mental health disorder affecting people’s eating habits and their mentality towards food and self-image, but I assure you that the connection is there and my aim is to tackle this connection in this article.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on a global scale, causing the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare it as a pandemic. The virus in question affects the respiratory system and appears to be highly contagious in human beings, so how does this relate to mental health and, more specifically, to eating disorders.

Though there has been some focus on the mental health of individuals during these trying times, the main focus has obviously been on physical health since the virus in question attacks the body and not the mind. That being said, it is still important to review the current mental state of the global population in response to this virus and all the disruptions to daily life that it has brought with it – social distancing, working from home, quarantine and lockdown in some cases, possible redundancies due to businesses struggling to cope, as well as a host of other issues. All of these can affect a person’s mental health and, in some cases, severely aggravate any underlying conditions. An eating disorder is no different, as it is also a mental health condition and therefore times like these can in fact make things worse and even interfere with a person’s recovery.

Quarantine and Isolation

During quarantine, for example when there is a possibility that a person may be infected, it is paramount that a person remains in isolation or with other people in the same situation, but mainly away from others that might not have been infected. This self-isolation can severely disrupt a person’s recovery from an eating disorder since, when left to their own devices, they may fall back into their old habits. There is no need to despair however, as in this day and age there are many ways in which one can stay in touch with others via technology and the beautiful connectivity that the Internet provides. This connectivity can allow family members and medical professionals to keep in contact with a person in recovery and assist them in pushing on with their recovery program and not to fall back down the hole they started to crawl out of.

Social Distancing

In order to keep the infection and spread of this virus at bay, medical professionals are encouraging people to practice social distancing, whereby individuals avoid large crowds of people or places where there tend to be large amounts of people, as well as keeping a 2 metre distance from anyone when interacting with other people. For most people suffering from an eating disorder, social distancing is part of their everyday lives. They tend to not allow people to get too close as they do not want them to see them for who they think they are. Social distancing is also linked to the low self-confidence affecting most people suffering from these eating disorders. Once again, although sufferers may find social distancing easy, they are still hurting inside and need the help of those near and dear to them. More often than not, social distancing does not include immediate family especially when you are living in the same house anyway. Therefore, it is important for family members to keep spirits high and may even be a time to spot any symptoms of an eating disorder and gently attempt to discuss them so that the person in question can find the treatment they need. It is important however to approach the subject gently as, more often than not, the person will not want to admit that they are suffering or accept help.

“Keep an eye out for reduced appetite or strange eating behaviours, as well as excessive exercise regimes.”

Stress and Anxiety

Stressful situations, such as that brought about by the current global pandemic, can aggravate conditions associated with mental health such as eating disorders. Stress and anxiety are big issues in their own right, but when you mix them with other underlying physical and mental conditions, they can wreak havoc. It is therefore important to find activities that can assist with reducing stress and anxiety levels. Some example could include:

  • Don’t constantly focus on news related to this virus and instead take some time away from news portals and social media.
  • Take the time away from social gatherings to focus on activities and projects that you may have been putting off.
  • Keep connected to the people that matter and talk about the things that are affecting you with people you trust. Technology gives us the ability to communicate with anyone, anywhere, and at any time.
  • Music, whether listening to or making it, can be a massive stress relief outlet. Use it to collect your thoughts, express yourself and even use it to pass the time with your family and friends, whether online or in person.
  • Take care of your body and mind. Ensure that you are getting the right amount of food as part of healthy, well-balanced meals. Exercise but not excessively. Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep per night. Try meditation as a form of relaxation and to disconnect from the stressful situations around you.

Although all of the above are important factors to consider for reducing stress and anxiety, the last one is likely the most important as well as the most difficult for people suffering from eating disorders, and most sufferers will require the assistance of their loved ones to make sure that balance is maintained. Keep an eye out for reduced appetite or strange eating behaviours, as well as excessive exercise regimes. Since more time will be spent indoors and people living in the same house will likely spend more time together than they have in the past, it will be easier to spot any strange behaviour related to an eating disorder.

“they have a problem that CAN BE FIXED!”

Note that it is always important to get the advice of a professional when dealing with an eating disorder. They are trained and dedicated individuals who are the best line of defence against mental health conditions and their experience is invaluable when dealing with eating disorders. Note, however, that they may be inundated at the moment due to current situation so please keep that in mind and have some patience. A strong support structure from friends and family is also something that is paramount when dealing with an eating disorder. The final ingredient is a person’s will to change and accept that they have a problem that CAN BE FIXED! This is the recipe to overcoming an eating disorder, and even in these troubled times it is still possible to fight the demons and come out on the other side, stronger and more resilient than ever before!

Some helpful guides for dealing with eating disorders in general exist on this site so please feel free to browse through the different Stories and Resources we have made available, and get in touch via email or Facebook should you like to share your story or have suggestions for how we can help more.