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Coronavirus - support for people with an eating disorder or recovering from an eating disorder

The changes to our normal daily life, which we are all experiencing, can be particularly challenging for someone with an eating disorder or someone recovering from one. Routine and structure are so important to recovery, and with familiarity disrupted, you may be worried about how you will manage your anxious thoughts and distance yourself from unhealthy coping mechanisms.

It is so important for people recovering from an eating disorder, like anorexia or bulimia, to start by setting up a new daily routine, including elements of their previous schedule that they can still carry out. We understand that what you are going through is incredibly difficult, so it also important to be compassionate with yourself. Survival and nourishment should be your priority.

The team at Priory’s Arthur House have put together advice and information for people dealing with or recovering from eating disorders during the coronavirus outbreak to help you look after yourself when everything feels as though it is out of control.

Navigating food shopping during the coronavirus outbreak

The idea of food shopping may be a worry right now, as supermarkets have been running low on certain items, and are putting restrictions on certain things to stop stockpiling. If you have an eating disorder or are recovering from an eating disorder, you may feel understandably nervous about whether you will be able to get your ‘safe foods’. To help you, think about the following:

Follow a traffic light system

Before you go food shopping, draw a traffic light and break foods down into the following categories:

  • Green - safe foods
  • Amber - possible or manageable foods
  • Red – very challenging foods

Then, when you go food shopping, you will be more prepared if something is out of stock. Take your time and work through the green items, and move onto the amber foods if you need to. Once you get home from shopping, create a meal plan based on what you have been able to buy, which is the other way round to how you will have usually done things. 

Food and supermarkets are getting a lot of media attention at the minute. If you are finding that this is making you feel anxious, try to limit your time on news websites to 10-15 minutes per day, where you focus on reputable outlets to get the latest updates. Also, remember that you have the power to mute and unfollow any social media accounts that are causing you to feel anxious.

And, if you feel guilty about buying food at this time, remember that you deserve to eat. Buying food isn’t selfish; it is a necessity for everyone. 

Putting together a new daily routine for coronavirus lockdown

A lot of your daily routine is likely to have changed. You may not be attending school or work, activities and social events will be on pause, and appointments may not be happening as they usually do. Be proactive and empower yourself to look after your recovery – you deserve to stay well. Write out a daily structure, setting activities hour by hour. When doing so, think about including the following:

Access eating disorder support

If you are receiving eating disorder treatment or therapy, this may now be happening over the phone or over a video call. Try to treat these sessions as you would a face-to-face meeting, giving it your undivided attention and engaging fully in the session. Use the time to talk about any concerns that you have related to your eating, shape and weight, and also any coronavirus-related worries, so that you can work with your doctor or therapist to address them.

If you feel that you need additional professional support at the minute, many doctors and therapists are providing online support in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

You may also want to join BEAT’s The Sanctuary, an online group that has been set up in response to the coronavirus outbreak. This is a safe space where you can talk through your concerns and get access to peer support.

Remember, even if you are physically distant from your support network at the minute, or feel that you need to access a little more help, you are not alone. There are people available to support you.

Schedule in your meal and snack times

Schedule your usual time for meals and snacks into your new daily routine. If you are a key worker, make sure that you take the time to eat during the day and evening – it is a priority.

Stopping yourself from becoming hungry can reduce the likelihood of you wanting to binge (and purge), if you suffer from bulimia or binge eating disorder (BED).

Organise time to socialise virtually

Eating disorders thrive on isolation, so don’t give it that opportunity. Give someone a daily call, as hearing a human voice can be so much more comforting than reading words on a screen. Also, set up messaging groups with your friends or family if you haven’t done so already. You may want to set up a group video call once a week, or book in a daily meal chat for some support.

Remember that your family and friends care about you and want to support you. So, talk to them about any thoughts or feelings that you are struggling with at the minute. This can be a good opportunity for you to vent and the conversations can also work as a sounding board, where you work together to set up healthy coping strategies or distraction techniques. Your support system is so important to your recovery, so don’t stay silent – reach out and speak out.

Spend time on new or old hobbies

Try doing an activity that you can become absorbed in, whether that is painting and drawing, playing a musical instrument or crafting. Focusing your attention on something that you enjoy to do can help to boost your mood and distract you from any anxious thoughts.

Enjoy self-care and relaxation

Take the time to really look after yourself. Do things that you enjoy, which may be watching a movie, listening to a podcast, reading a book, writing in your journal or watching your favourite TV show.  

Also stick to your usual self-care routine, so make sure that you get showered, get dressed, and clean your teeth. This can really help you to get in a good mind-set for the day.

Schedule in moderate exercise

You may be anxious about your lack of movement brought on by self-isolation. Remember, don’t let this affect what you eat – you don’t need to restrict your food to compensate.

Also, if you are feeling a huge amount of pressure to be fit or stay fit, it is important to be compassionate with yourself. Movement should be used to feel good and help our mental health, rather than to control the emotions we have around uncertain circumstances.

You may want to go for a short walk, go into the garden, or sit by an open window to get some fresh air. There are also many yoga or meditation apps and videos online. Also, if you have been finding that social media accounts are triggering certain thoughts and feelings around exercise, now may be the time to mute or unfollow them.

Keep to regular wake-up and bed times

In your daily routine, write down the times you are going to get up in the morning, when you are going to wind down in the evening, and when you are going to go to bed. It is so important to maintain this routine, as it can stop you from feeling tired in the day, which can have a negative impact on your emotions.

Reviewed by Rebecca Jennings (MSc ANutr), Nutritionist at Life Works

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