How These Unstructured Days Affect Eating Disorder Recovery

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Contributor: Staff at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

While the current stay-at-home orders have kept us safe from illness, they have wildly disrupted most people’s day-to-day lives. The sudden loss of structure and routine can be difficult for anyone, but for those who are in eating disorder recovery, these long, unstructured days can pose a serious health challenge.

The Effects of Disruption

The loss of structure and routine as a result of the stay-at-home orders is affecting a lot of people’s mental health, even if they’ve never had mental health concerns before. However, people who struggle with the compulsion to engage in disordered eating behaviors may suffer from worsening symptoms because many rely on specific daily routines to aid in their recovery process.

Those who grapple with co-occurring conditions, such as an anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, may also find that those symptoms have worsened as they worry about whether they’ll get sick, how to access specific foods they need for recovery, or how they’ll continue their exercise routine now that their gym has closed.

“We don’t have the data, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this crisis contributes to a higher relapse rate,” Christina Wierenga, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego who specializes in eating disorders, told the American Psychological Association. “…Isolation is a real concern. Our patients tend to socially isolate anyway. They have social anxiety. A lot of times, they’re depressed.”

Eating Patterns in Eating Disorder Recovery

But relapse from an eating disorder is not inevitable despite having your life shaken up beyond recognition. When your life has been turned upside down, it’s possible to take back control and create new routines that fit this new normal.

Take Back Control

When your routine has been completely disrupted and your days have no structure, it might seem impossible to stay on the path to eating disorder recovery. The key is to create your own structure so that you can regain control of your recovery journey.

Just like you did before the stay-at-home orders were in effect, plan out your meals and snacks so that you have a grocery shopping, cooking, and eating schedule. This will take extra flexibility because many foods are currently less available, so find foods you can substitute, even if it’s something you wouldn’t ordinarily include in your nutrition plan. Remember that this situation is temporary and that you can go back to your regular meal plan soon.

Woman dealing with eating disorder recoveryIn addition to your meal planning, take the time to plan out the rest of your day with a full list of activities so that you fill that empty, unstructured time with a new routine. “When someone is recovering, one of the things that protects someone is schedules and routines, filling the space, and kind of suffocating out the eating disorder,” Nancy Zucker, Ph.D., director of the Duke Center for Eating Disorders in Durham, North Carolina, told the American Psychological Association.

Keep It Simple

You might be seeing a lot of social media posts about how people are keeping busy, including the languages they’re learning, books they’re reading, or pieces of art they’re creating. Remember that social media is a snapshot of a single moment in a person’s life. They’re showing you the best version of themselves in those posts, so you aren’t seeing the struggles they might be facing amid these stay-at-home orders.

When you put your routine together, don’t push yourself to finish all your dream projects. Your new routine can be as simple or as complex as you’d like it to be. What’s important is that you offer yourself compassion and small chances to succeed each day.

If you’re still struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out for help, whether to a trusted friend, a family member, or someone from your care team. The days may feel never-ending, but with a set routine and a strong support system, you’ll get through them — one at a time.


Huff, C. (2020). For people with eating disorders, COVID-19 presents new challenges. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from

About Our Sponsor:

At Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center outside of Chicago, Illinois, we provide specialized care for women and adolescent girls who are living with eating disorders.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed & Approved on May 20, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC
Published May 20, 2020, on