The more you attempt to shrink your body, the more shrunken your life will become.
If your eating disorder thoughts are ramping up right now, I want you to know that you’re not alone. You’re not selfish or shallow for being afraid of weight gain or struggling with body image right now.
For so many of us, our eating disorders are our only resource to feel safe in a world that feels anything but.
During a time filled with so much uncertainty and heightened anxiety, of course it would make sense to feel the pull to turn to the false sense of safety and comfort that an eating disorder promises you.
I want to remind you, first and foremost, that your eating disorder is lying to you. Turning toward your eating disorder in an attempt to quell the anxiety won’t actually take away the source of that anxiety.
The more you attempt to shrink your body, the more shrunken your life will become. The more you turn toward eating disorder behaviors, the less brain space you’ll have to work on meaningful connections with others.
You’ll also have less ability to work toward creating a full and expansive life that’s worth living outside the eating disorder.
So, how do we stay the course during such scary and painful times?
Yes, we need to practice physical distancing to flatten the curve and protect ourselves and fellow humans. But we don’t need to be socially and emotionally distancing ourselves from our support system.
In fact, this is when we need to lean on our community more than ever!
Stay in contact
Making regular FaceTime dates with friends is important for staying connected. If you can schedule those dates around mealtimes for accountability, it can be useful in supporting your recovery.
Keep your treatment team close by
If you have a treatment team, please keep seeing them virtually. I know it might not feel the same, but it’s still a level of connection that’s essential to your healing. And if you’re in need of more intensive support, most partial hospitalization programs are virtual now too.
Find support on social media
For those of you looking for free resources, there are many clinicians offering meal support on Instagram Live right now. There’s a new Instagram account, @covid19eatingsupport, offering meal support every hour by Health At Every Size clinicians around the world.
Make it a movie night
If you need a way to unwind at night but you’re struggling with feelings of loneliness, try using Netflix Party. It’s an extension you can add to watch shows with a friend at the same time.
There’s something soothing about knowing someone else is right there alongside you, even if they’re not physically there.
At a time when your grocery store might not have the safe foods you rely on, it can feel incredibly unnerving and scary. But don’t let the eating disorder get in the way of you nourishing yourself.
Canned foods are OK
As much as our culture demonizes processed food, the only truly “unhealthy” thing here would be restricting and using eating disorder behaviors.
Processed foods aren’t dangerous; your eating disorder is. So stock up on shelf-stable and canned food if you need to, and allow yourself full permission to eat the foods available to you.
Use food to soothe
If you’re noticing that you’ve been stress eating or bingeing more, that makes total sense. Turning to food for comfort is a wise and resourceful coping skill, even if diet culture likes to convince us otherwise.
I know it might sound counterintuitive, but allowing yourself permission to self-soothe with food is important.
The more you feel guilty about emotional eating and the more you attempt to restrict to “make up for the binge,” the more the cycle will continue. It’s more than OK that you might be turning to food to cope right now.
Yes, there’s all this COVID-19 advice about getting out of pajamas and setting a strict schedule. But for the sake of transparency, I haven’t gotten out of pajamas in 2 weeks, and I’m OK with that.
Find a rhythm
However, I’m finding it useful to turn to a loose eating schedule, and that can be particularly important for those in eating disorder recovery who may not have strong hunger and/or fullness cues.
Knowing that you’ll be eating five to six times a day at a minimum (breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack) can be a great guideline to follow.
Stick to the plan, even when you don’t
If you binge, it’s important to eat the next meal or snack, even if you’re not hungry, to stop the binge-restrict cycle. If you skipped a meal or engaged in other behaviors, again, get to that next meal or snack.
It’s not about being perfect, because a perfect recovery isn’t possible. It’s about making the next best recovery-minded choice.
You’d think diet culture would quiet down in the midst of this apocalypse, but nope, it’s still in full swing.
We’re seeing post after post about using fad diets to cure COVID-19 (news flash, that’s quite literally impossible) and, of course, the urgent need to exercise to avoid gaining weight in quarantine.
Remember, there’s no pressure
First of all, it’s OK if you gain weight in quarantine (or any other time of your life!). Bodies aren’t meant to stay the same.
You’re also under zero obligation to exercise and need no justification to rest and take a break from movement.
Count on your team
Some people struggle with a disordered relationship to exercise in their eating disorders, while others find it to be a really helpful way to relieve anxiety and improve their mood.
If you have a treatment team, I’d encourage you to follow their recommendations regarding exercise. If you don’t, it could be useful to take a look at your intentions behind exercising.
Know your intentions
Some questions to ask yourself might be:
- Would I still exercise if it wouldn’t change my body at all?
- Can I listen to my body and take breaks when I need them?
- Do I feel anxious or guilty when I can’t exercise?
- Am I trying to “make up” for the food I’ve eaten today?
If it’s safe for you to exercise, there are a lot of resources right now with studios and apps offering free classes. But if you don’t feel like it, that’s perfectly acceptable too.
Most importantly, the best exercise you can engage in is unfollowing any social media accounts that are promoting diet culture and making you feel like crap about yourself.
It’s important to do regardless but particularly now, when we don’t need any additional stressors or triggers than we already have.
You’re doing the best you can. Full stop.
Our lives have all been turned upside down, so please allow yourself space to grieve the losses and changes you’re experiencing.
Know that your feelings are valid, no matter what they are. There’s no correct way to be handling this right now.
If you find yourself turning to your eating disorder right now, I hope you can offer yourself compassion. How you treat yourself after you engage in the behavior is more important than the actual behavior you engaged in.
Give yourself grace and be gentle with yourself. You’re not alone.
Shira Rosenbluth, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker in New York City. She has a passion for helping people feel their best in their body at any size and specializes in the treatment of disordered eating, eating disorders, and body image dissatisfaction using a weight-neutral approach. She’s also the author of The Shira Rose, a popular body positive style blog that’s been featured in Verily Magazine, The Everygirl, Glam, and LaurenConrad.com. You can find her on Instagram.