How to Maintain Your Eating Disorder Recovery Amidst a Pandemic

Depressed young woman thinking about Genetics and Depression

Contributor: Marissa Edwards, Ph.D., at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt

As we all continue to adjust to our new COVID-19 reality, one thing is for certain: change is inevitable. Unfortunately, we weren’t given a “Surviving Coronavirus” manual to navigate these trying times! While new quarantine protocols and stay-at-home orders have posed challenges for everyone, those in eating disorder recovery face unique obstacles.

Many individuals with eating disorders also struggle with other co-occurring mental health conditions, increasing the psychological toll the COVID-19 pandemic takes. Changes to treatment delivery, increased isolation, and relentless news also have the potential to negatively impact the recovery process [1].

Social distancing recommendations have made sustaining support more difficult. Visiting supportive friends and family in person has been replaced with video calls and text messages.

Coupled with the fact that many treatment and support centers have temporarily shifted towards virtual services, feelings of loneliness are at an all-time high. While social distancing is vital, it can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, depression, and urges to give in to one’s eating disorder.

The challenge to stay motivated to maintain recovery can seem like an uphill battle right now. More unstructured time, fewer appointments, and less frequent reminders of the importance of recovery can make it easy to lose sight of your goals.

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It is normal to have heightened emotions and feelings of powerlessness during this unprecedented time. To remain in control, some may feel the pull to engage in maladaptive coping strategies, or the urge to act on eating disorder symptoms, become stronger.

On top of all of this, there are floods of messages about food delivery services, workout programs, and how to avoid gaining the “quarantine 15” – triggering situations are becoming unavoidable.

How do you maintain your eating disorder recovery during this pandemic?

Utilize Support

Finding ways to engage with others for support, rather than self-isolating, is crucial. Reaching out to a friend, family member, therapist, or support group that you trust can help relieve feelings of loneliness and isolation. You can also try seeking out online support groups or recovery-focused social media sites to help you manage eating disorder concerns.

Practice Coping Skills

Practicing coping skills like mindfulness, arts and crafts, journaling, and listening to music are great ways to incorporate healthy practices into your daily routine. Elements of mindfulness can reduce repetitive negative thinking and improve self-compassion, psychological flexibility, and emotion regulation [2]. Try to purposefully engage in activities that create feelings of calm and happiness, like meditation, restorative yoga, building a coping playlist, and creating a mindfulness jar.

Maintain a Daily Routine

Maintaining a daily routine can help you foster a sense of normalcy. Planning meals, interactions with friends and family, and self-care time can all help you feel more in control amidst the chaos. Here are a few ways you can do that:

  • Try creating an outline of the goals you want to accomplish during the day – this can keep you motivated. Make sure you allow time for flexibility!
  • Practice good sleep hygiene. Waking up and going to bed at the same time each day can help you maintain a routine and get the right amount of sleep.
  • Showering and getting dressed may help you feel refreshed and ready for the day.
  • Keep making mealtimes a priority in your schedule. If you tend to rush or skip meals, allow yourself enough time and make a plan of what you will eat. If meals take a bit more time for you, set a reasonable goal of when you hope to finish. Reach out to friends, family, or those you trust if you need support during mealtimes.
  • Strive to make time in your day to do something for your mind and body, whether it is meditating, listening to a podcast, or stepping outside for some fresh air.

Remember, there is no right or wrong way to plan each day, so do what works best for you!

Remind Yourself Why Recovery is Important

Woman considering Eating Disorder RecoveryGiving yourself gentle reminders of why recovery is important to you may help increase your motivation and help you stay on track.

  • Review treatment materials and skills you have learned in the past. It may be helpful to create coping cards, with positive quotes or self-affirmations to remind yourself that recovery is possible.
  • Try replacing negative self-talk with more helpful reminders. For example, rather than “I can’t finish this meal,” try “this is challenging, but I can handle it.” Celebrate the “small wins” and keep track of your accomplishments by writing them down. Reminding yourself of past accomplishments can help encourage you to keep moving towards recovery.

Make Sure You Have a Relapse Prevention Plan

Having a relapse prevention plan in place can improve your chances of refocusing if a slip or relapse occurs.

  • Create a list of coping skills that work for you, whether it is practicing mindfulness, journaling, listening to music, or using a glitter jar. One coping skill may not work in every situation, so having multiple options can be helpful.
  • Develop a support system of people who encourage and care for you. Build a list with names and phone numbers of family, friends, and health providers that you can reference when you need it.
  • Identify the potential stressors that can impact your mood or eating behaviors and list ways of coping with each.
  • Understand the warning signs of a slip or relapse and know when it may be time to seek professional help.

Make your plan specific to your recovery. One of the best ways to prevent relapse is to plan ahead.

Be Kind to Yourself

Remember that everyone is navigating these changes in different ways, and feeling uneasy is okay. Practicing acceptance and taking things one day at a time will help ease anxious feelings. Try surrounding yourself with positive recovery-focused media messages by unfollowing content that increases anxiety or negative comparisons.

Remember: you’ve got this, and help is available.


Recommended Resources:

NEDA Covid-19 Resourceshttps://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/covid-19-resources-page
NEDA Helpline – 800-931-2237
Crisis Text Line – Text HOME to 741-741
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-8255
Calm Mindfulness App – www.calm.com
Tips for Sleep Hygiene – https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/sleep-hygiene


References:

1. Branley-Bell, D., & Talbot, C. V. (2020). Exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and UK lockdown on individuals with experience of eating disorders.

2. Vanzhula, I. A., & Levinson, C. A. (2020). Mindfulness in the Treatment of Eating Disorders: Theoretical Rationale and Hypothesized Mechanisms of Action. Mindfulness, 1-15.


About the Author:

Marissa Edwards Headshot

Marissa Edwards, Ph.D. is a post-doctoral fellow at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt. In her role, she provides individual and group therapy to patients of all ages, specializing in the young adult population. Dr. Edwards has worked with individuals with various mental illnesses, health, behavior, and emotional difficulties and is passionate about improving the lives of her patients through evidence-based treatment.

Her professional interests include increasing the utilization of mental and physical health treatment among minority populations, providing training and education regarding mental health, and working with millennial clients to improve life satisfaction


Sheppard Pratt LogoThe Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt provides treatment for adults and adolescents with complex eating disorders. We call eating disorders “complex” because each disorder has its own unique set of causes, symptoms, and health risks, and every individual may experience the illness and the recovery process differently.

Everything we do is guided by our extensive experience and the latest research into the biological, psychological, and social factors of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.


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 21, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC
Published May 21, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.