Eating disorder recovery is a bitch in a perfect world. Throw in a worldwide pandemic, and recovery is 1000-times harder.
You’ve gone to therapy, meetings, and are in support groups to help keep your recovery strong. You’ve worked hard to build up your toolbox of what you can do when the urge to use, purge, overeat, or restrict food strikes you. You’ve struggled with understanding and healing your past. You grind it out every day because eating disorder healing is something you have to work at every day. There is no coasting involved even in the best of times.
This pandemic has many of us feeling unhinged in one way or another. One thing that many people are turning to during this unprecedented time is food.
Food is comfort. Eating is something we as a society do when we’re bored, frustrated, upset (insert adjective here), and don’t know what to do with ourselves. Alternatively, limiting food intake may also provide comfort for some.
There are tons of memes out there about the “Quarantine 15.” People without eating disorders are trying to normalize the weight gain by making a joke about it. That can be very triggering to those struggling with recovery.
Then, there’s the act of food shopping, which is equally anxiety-provoking right now.
It’s so stressful to be in the market, so it’s easy to grab those comfort foods while weaving through the aisles attempting to stay six feet away from the next person. Someone trying to recover from anorexia may take this time to feel control over the situation by under-buying food. A bulimic, binge eater, or compulsive overeater may tend to over-buy in this panicked situation.
Eating disorders are all about control, but you’ve learned how to live a healthier life by relinquishing that discipline. Now though, the world is out of totally out of check. How do you hang onto your recovery when the world has aligned itself for that eating-disordered voice to get louder?
There are many ways to tackle the triggers and hang onto the recovery that you’ve worked so hard to gain.
To begin with, breathe. Literally, breathe. Inhale, exhale slowly. Repeat. Take things one day at a time, one hour at a time. Recognize your feelings, allow yourself to feel them. It’s okay to be scared; it’s okay to feel helpless; it’s okay to be frustrated; it’s okay to be bored. Controlling your food isn’t going to change anything. In fact, it will probably add other emotions — guilt, regret, or disgust — to what you are already feeling. That will not help your situation. Know that this pandemic will pass.
If you can, find a quiet spot either in your house or outside, away from the people who you are hunkering down with during this lockdown. Close your eyes, and pay attention to your breathing. Let the world around you fade away while you center yourself.
If you’re fidgety or too worked up to calm the mind and sit, try a moving meditation.
Write with pen and paper the old fashioned way if that feels comfortable for you, or tap it out on the computer or your phone. Do a brain dump and let all thoughts and feelings flow out of you onto that paper or machine. Do some gratitude journaling to remind yourself of all the good things in your life that you are thankful for.
Another option to consider are phone meetings. Overeaters Anonymous and Eating Disorders Anonymous both offer online and phone meetings. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders also offers a directory of online support options. They are everywhere and all the time. Look on their website to find a call you can hop onto at your convenience. Most everyone on the other end of that phone is going through the same thing you are. There is healing knowing you are not alone. You will hear hope there too.
Come up with some mantras and write them down. A mantra is a simple, easy-to-remember statement that you repeat over and over again. Your brain was made to think, right? Mantras give your brain something specific to focus on so it isn’t running amuck.
Take your specific mantra, write it out, and place it strategically throughout your house — the bathroom, your desk, the refrigerator. If nothing specific comes to mind, use these examples to get started:
I am strong.
I will get through this.
Food is not going to help with my problems.
I can handle feeling uncomfortable.
Make visible reminders to show you how far you’ve come. A recovered compulsive eater, I used to wear a homemade beaded bracelet that showed how many days, weeks, or months of recovery I had — whatever stage I was in at the time. It was a constant reminder on my wrist to show me how much abstinence from the food I’ve accomplished and to remind myself that I’d prefer not to go back to all the negative crap that goes along with the eating disorder.
Talk to a friend or family who knows you are trying to recover.
Be honest and authentic with your struggles. You are only as sick as your secrets, so dump them out of your head and let someone comfort and help you.
Go back to the comforts of your youth, before the eating disorder grabbed you. Go outside and relax or “play” in nature. Ride your bike, play board games, color, paint, read comic books, play music loud and dance around.
If you feel like those options aren’t working, utilize all of the telehealth options available. If your therapist isn’t working right now, do some research, and find a therapist specializing in eating disorders who is available.
Lastly, if you try all of these things but still fall off the wagon, be kind and gentle to yourself.
Speak to yourself as you would a friend. Would you call your friend a failure or worthless? Of course not, so don’t say that to yourself. This pandemic is just a bump on the road. In time, and with help, you can get yourself back onto the recovery wagon.