Contributor: Staff at Montecatini Eating Disorder Treatment Center
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) was declared a global pandemic in March of 2020 and presented a completely new way of living for most people worldwide. For those with eating disorders, the pandemic has had an even greater impact on their life. Now with the holidays right around the corner, even more challenges may emerge.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, calls to the eating disorder helplines have increased by 78% during COVID-19 . In a survey of 1,000 individuals with self- reported eating disorders, researchers found that participants with anorexia nervosa reported a 62% increase in restriction and fears about being able to find foods consistent with their meal plan.
Additionally, 30% of individuals with bulimia nervosa and binge‐eating disorder reported increases in their binge‐eating episodes and urges to binge .
Challenges of the Holiday Season
The holiday season can add another layer of challenges to those with eating disorders. Holidays can be a time of increased anxiety, stress, and emotions as there are often social gatherings, a large emphasis on food, and one’s sense of structure and routine is often disrupted .
If this holiday season is anything like the rest of 2020, then it will likely be unpredictable, and traditions may take on a new form. For those that choose to attend in-person celebrations and gatherings, the Center for Disease Control provides the most current information and recommendations for preventing the spread of COVID-19
Risk factors to consider include: location of the event (whether indoor or outdoor), duration of the gathering (the longer the duration increases the risk of exposure), number of people, where attendees are traveling from, and behaviors of those attending before and during the event (wearing of face masks, practicing social distancing, and handwashing) .
For some, trying to process the risks involved with in-person social gatherings may feel overwhelming, and so, finding new ways to stay connected and honor the holiday traditions may arise. Video conferencing platforms and apps have provided a new way for friends, family, and loved ones to stay connected.
Opening gifts and sharing a meal together can be done over video conferencing. Sharing of family recipes or recipes traditional to the holiday beforehand and then eating the meal together online is a way to incorporate traditions.
For those with the privilege of having their own car or means of transportation, drive-by events are also a way of social distancing. Dropping off gifts, homemade goods, cards, candles while adhering to CDC guidelines can provide another option of staying connected and honoring traditions.
Ways to Handle These Challenges
An increased sense of anxiety around the holidays is common. Adding a global pandemic will likely elevate this feeling. It is important to create a cope ahead plan to prepare for emotionally challenging situations and know where to find support and resources.
For those with eating disorders, connecting with treatment team providers (therapist, registered dietitian), creating a plan, and processing different options to celebrate if plans change last minute, can help. Attending support groups is another way of connecting with others who share the same fears and concerns and can create solutions together.
The National Eating Disorder Association website has a link dedicated to COVID-19 resources that include the NEDA helpline, virtual support groups, a COVID-19 forum, and other ways to receive help and support .
Despite all of the challenges that 2020 has brought, the holidays are not canceled, and eating disorder recovery is not canceled. Staying connected to friends, family, and loved ones may be different from years past, but is still possible and vital to our health and well-being.
References: Flores, J. (2020, September 11). Eating disorders ‘thrive in isolation’: Coronavirus quarantine has led to a nearly 80% increase in calls for help, experts say USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/09/10/covid-19-quarantine-eating-disorders-neda/5765046002/  Termorshuizen, J. D. et al. (2020). Early impact of covid-19 on individuals with eating disorders: a survey of ~1000 individuals in the United States and Netherlands. Retrieved from https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.28.20116301v2.  Rollin, J. (2016, December 16). Tips for Surviving the Holidays in Eating Disorder Recovery: How to stay on track this holiday season. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindful-musings/201612/tips-surviving-the-holidays-in-eating-disorder-recovery  Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)- Holiday Celebrations. (2020, October 14). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html  NEDA COVID-19 Resources (2018). Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/covid-19-resources-page
About Our Sponsor:
Montecatini provides comprehensive treatment to females age 16 and older who are struggling with eating disorders and co-occurring addiction and mental health concerns. We provide a full continuum of life-changing care, including residential treatment, a partial hospitalization program (PHP), and an intensive outpatient program (IOP). We also offer a wellness center where clients can build healthier relationships with their bodies through joyful movement.
About the Author:
Leah Morgan is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Eating Disorder Specialist, a Licensed Be Body Positive Facilitator, and the Director of Nutrition And Wellness at Montecatini. She has been involved in the treatment of eating disorders since 2006 and joined the Montecatini family in October of 2011. She is a member of the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP) and International Federation of Eating Disorder Dietitians (IFEDD).
Leah collaborates with her patients by taking a non-judgmental and inclusive approach using motivational interviewing to guide the patient to meet their nutritional needs without losing sight of the emotional and social value of food. She holds the hope that recovery is possible and that through nutritional restoration the body starts to heal, the mind thinks clearer and the patient can connect to their values.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on 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.
Published November 2, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on November 2, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC