If you or your loved one is in need of support, resources, and treatment options for an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association at (800) 931-2237 or visit their website here.

As someone who has struggled with disordered eating for years, my heart goes out to everyone who, during this pandemic, was forced to worry about food, stare at a fridge every day, hear jokes about the “quarantine 15” and see endless “fitness” challenges on social media. Stressors can make disordered eating worse,and it’s hard to imagine something more stressing than a pandemic. I knew I wasn’t alone in my concerns that being at home, mostly alone, with the idea of food uncertainty floating around, and surrounded by the toxicity of social media, I might see issues I considered put to rest wake up again. I heard from several young women online that they were concerned about the stressors on their recovery from people talking about food shortages, from the onslaught of baking and dessert recipes, and from the fitness regimes that are becoming all the rage again. 

With that in mind, I wanted to talk to an expert on ways we, as both recoverers and allies, can help promote eating disorder recovery during this pandemic and during other times of great stress.  I spoke with Deborah Michel, PhD, FAED, CEDS-S, Regional Clinical Director, Houston and The Woodlands for Eating Recovery Center. 

Michel advises that, first and foremost, “For those who currently have a treatment team (psychotherapist, dietitian, physician, possibly psychiatrist), it is important to continue treatment either in-person or virtually.  For those who are not currently in  treatment, you can still seek care as many providers are conducting telebehavioral or telehealth services in addition to in-person care.  Treatment is especially important during this time of heightened anxiety, as individuals struggling with eating disorders may need additional assistance navigating our “new daily normal.”

How should people recovering from eating disorders focus their grocery shopping and food habits? Is it better to have groceries delivered versus going to stores and seeing empty shelves or products?  Are there any tips for cooking and meal planning or prepping to control ED recovery especially during a time of crisis?

Meeting with a dietitian who specializes in eating disorders can be very helpful in the development of a meal plan as well as an appropriate grocery list.  Individuals with eating disorders vary in terms of comfort level within grocery stores, so whether shopping is done online or in person will depend upon what is most helpful at a given stage of recovery.   It is essential that individuals adhere to their meal plan of regular eating including snacks.  It is also important that people ensure they have a sufficient stock of groceries, whether fresh foods, canned, or frozen, so that nutritious meals can be prepared.  Having an accountability partner, such as a trusted friend or family member,  to ensure that this is happening can be very helpful.  

How do you recommend approaching at-home fitness for people who may have had issues with it before? For example, it used to be that you had to go travel to the gym. Now there’s almost always a class streaming. Should we limit our indulgences in exercise by changing membership? Doing one kind of exercise over another? What about battling a culture that’s all about “at home workouts” on social media?

For those who struggle with over exercise, the amount of increased time some people have had to engage in exercise in conjunction with the constant availability, is a real challenge.  If a person is unable to limit their exercise when sick or injured, if it is used as permission to eat, and/or it gets in the way of relationships, work, or school, professional help is likely needed.  It is important to resist the urge of comparison whether on social media, television, or some other media outlet.  Healthy bodies come in all sizes and shapes that are unique to each person’s genetics.  We must learn to honor our bodies as part of ourselves as opposed to viewing them as objects to be manipulated in order to be acceptable and/or  view some narrow view of beauty.

RELATED: 3 Ways To Help A Friend With An Eating Disorder 

What about accountability? I’ve recently been a lot more open with my ED recovery so that my roommate understands why I don’t want to keep a scale in the bathroom and so he can keep an eye out for any disordered eating habits. Should people talk more to the people they are living with? Have you seen people turning to more online accountability as well?

Accountability and openness are critical for eating disorder recovery.  Eating disorders thrive in secrecy as it is easier for people to practice eating disorder behavior and remain entrenched in eating disorder thoughts.  Social distancing from others is not the same thing as emotionally distancing oneself from others.  Now, more than ever, it is vital that those recovering from an eating disorder reach out to others for support and help, whether in-person or online.  Eating disorders assist people with emotional regulation, so having others to support oneself in attempting to regulate emotions and relationships without eating disorder behavior is needed.

Do you have any other tips for maintaining or entering ED recovery when the world is on fire, people are constantly baking bread or talking about summer bodies, and stress is generally super high?

Remaining connected to our values, remaining connected to others, and avoiding isolation are key.  Look for ways to stay connected in these ways as often as possible whether doing so online, videoconferencing, social events where you can socially distance, etc.  We have all seen incredibly creative ways that people are finding to connect to one another and still do things they value.   It is also important to keep a structured daily routine.  With much uncertainty in the world, being able to count on routine structure helps us to relax a bit and stay on track with our intentions and goals.

If you or your loved one is in need of support, resources, and treatment options for an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association at (800) 931-2237 or visit their website here.

Aryssa D
FFL Cabinet Member