Coping With COVID-19 In Eating Disorder Recovery

Information from Eating Disorders Coalition – March 20, 2020


As more and more precautions are put in place to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, individuals with eating disorders face increased challenges in maintaining their recovery. As a result, we have put together some steps to support eating disorder recovery during a global pandemic. In addition to washing your hands and staying home, we encourage you to use the SPREAD steps to help you manage your recovery.

Support recovery

Because of the chance that you may be stuck at home for an extended period of time, it will be helpful to plan ahead so that you have what you need to support your recovery. For me, this meant having my safe foods and challenge foods at home, so that I am able to maintain my meal plan and incorporate challenges. It also meant finding some alternatives for staples in my diet, like picking up frozen fruit and vegetables in case I am not able to get to the store to get fresh produce. If you are unsure of how to best do this, consulting with a dietitian (via phone) could be helpful. Alternatively, take a look at what your friends and family without eating disorders are doing and follow their lead. It’s important also to remember that all foods fit; right now, your eating may look a little different because of all the changes and precautions and that’s okay!

Press pause

Right now, the world is in flux. You may not know if you have to go to work on Monday or whether you will have in-person supports for recovery. At times like this, when uncertainty is rampant, the idea of progressing in recovery can be unfathomable. Give yourself permission to press pause during this time. You do not have to do anything more or challenge any new foods, but you cannot go backwards. Focus on maintaining where you are to the best of your abilities, understanding that slips may happen (see Ease up for tips on how to manage this). 

Reach out

Continue reaching out to supports whenever possible. If your service providers are equipped, they may be able to offer teleconference or phone sessions. With platforms like Zoom, Skype, and WebEx, your providers may also be able to do videoconference sessions! Organizations like Eating Disorders Nova Scotia and Body Brave Canada have online support groups that will continue running at this time. Alternatively, NEDIC and NEDA have phone and text support for individuals struggling with eating disorders. Loved ones may also be able to provide encouragement and support, especially if they are familiar with your journey.

Ease up

These are challenging times. It is not surprising if you are experiencing increased urges to engage in eating disorder behaviours or have found yourself turning to these behaviours. Meeting yourself with compassion can be helpful in managing shame or guilt associated with these slips. How would you talk to a child who is frightened or uncertain about the state of the world? Once you have met yourself with compassion, you can take steps to get back on track such as reaching out to a friend or professional. As the adage in treatment goes, it is important to do the next right thing.

Manage Anxiety and Depression Symptoms

Because anxiety and depression symptoms can make it harder to stay on track with eating disorder recovery, it is important to also make note of and do your best to manage these symptoms at this time.

Anxiety. Individuals who are predisposed to anxiety are likely experiencing a number of worries and/or anxious thoughts related to COVID-19. This may be heightened for people who already experience health anxiety and/or contamination fears. Staying informed while not becoming over-informed is key to managing these worries. Limiting exposure to social media and news coverage will be helpful in this regard. Checking once per day is likely sufficient. Additionally, strategies like mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation may help to manage anxiety as it arises. The Canadian Psychological Association and Anxiety Canada have compiled a list of strategies and resources for managing these symptoms.

Depression. Social distancing is likely to increase feelings of loneliness, isolation, and sadness or depression. Finding connection where you can is important in managing these symptoms. Consider scheduling a Skype coffee date everyday with a friend or calling a loved one to check-in with them. Engaging in light activity such as walking or yoga (if you have been medically cleared to do so) can help boost your mood. Similarly, just going outside and breathing the fresh air can help to feel more connected. If you know that being alone and having little to do is a trigger for your depression, consider planning something to do a day in advance. That way, when you wake up you will have a plan!

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