Containment efforts to halt the spread of the coronavirus, which include social distancing measures and “stay-at-home” orders, are difficult for all of us as far as our mental health is concerned. It is more so in the case of those with (or at risk of) eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. In fact, not even those who are still recovering from these eating disorders are safe from the virus.
“The disruption of face-to-face treatment delivery services that comes as a result of COVID-19 will exacerbate the already alarming figure that fewer than 25 percent of people with an eating disorder receive care,” Dr. Jake Linardon, a research fellow and psychology lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, said. Writing for Psychology Today, he explained the following factors that can worsen eating disorders during the pandemic: stress, economic hardship and social isolation, with the latter causing unhealthy social media usage that can increase eating disorder risk.
Fortunately, the founder of Break Binge Eating has listed some ways to help you learn how to keep eating disorders at bay amid the coronavirus pandemic. Here are some top tips to keep eating disorders at bay:
Maintain Eating Consistency
A consistent eating pattern throughout the pandemic is important in addressing or preventing the onset of eating disorders.
“Consistent eating is eating at least 3 meals and at least 3 snacks each day, ensuring that you leave no more than 4 hours apart between each eating episode,” Linardon said. “No skipping meals, no intermittent fasting, and no restricting after dinner.”
Regular eating prevents the onset of extreme hunger and feelings of physiological and psychological deprivation. Feeling full throughout the day can make you less likely to turn to comfort foods whenever you feel stressed or feel ashamed of your body.
Doing this requires setting and following a schedule – one that sets times for your planned meals or snacks.
Practicing mindfulness is shown by recent evidence to stop eating disorders.
Mindfulness is a way of paying attention that is done through meditation or body scans. This causes you to learn how to regulate your attention by non-judgmentally focusing on stimuli such as thoughts and emotions.
In the process, you learn to observe these stimuli without analyzing their truth or importance and without attempting to escape avoid or change them. Mindfulness is thought to increase self-awareness and proper response to negative situations, making mindfulness exercises suitable for stopping emotionally-charged eating disorder behaviors.
Mindfulness practices, Linardon said, will bring forth clarity, acceptance and minimize the likelihood of acting impulsively whenever you experience mood shifts, stress or body shame.
Search For A Hobby
Your time under home quarantine is a good opportunity to take up a hobby that you want. These hobbies can range from playing instruments to even researching your family history. What is important is that by immersing yourself in a hobby, you improve your well-being as well as your eating behaviors.
That is because a new hobby takes away most of the factors that can cause eating disorder behaviors. “More specifically, a new hobby relaxes you, gives you purpose, builds your self-esteem, and ultimately reduces the importance you place on eating, shape, and weight,” Linardon said. “Therefore, whenever we encounter an adverse situation, encounter, or event, instead of resorting to food or eating as your coping mechanism, you’ll quickly learn to fall back your hobby to help you through the difficult experience.”
Limit Social Media Usage
Though social media helps you connect with those close to you while under isolation or staying at home, it is also associated with an increase in eating disorder symptoms.
Fortunately, there are ways for you to limit your social media use and avoid unnecessary binge eating through this time. Linardon suggested limiting the amount of time spent on social media daily, unfollowing accounts “that reinforce unattainable appearance ideals or that don’t make you feel good about yourself,” and following those that promote “feel-good content,” such as body positivity or cute animals.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
“Alcohol and eating disorders don’t mix well,” Linardon said. “There’s good quality evidence to suggest that excess alcohol consumption increases the risk of eating disorder behaviors.”
And there are two reasons why. First, alcohol directly causes anxiety, stress and depression, especially among some people, and these emotions can trigger eating disorder behaviors. Second, it also affects your judgment and inhibits your ability to carefully consider the consequences of your actions. Being under the influence of alcohol can make it difficult to resist the urge to eat your favorite foods.
“So it’s a good idea to limit your consumption of alcohol – particularly during periods of social distancing – if you’re struggling with an eating disorder,” Linardon said.