Eating Disorders During the Pandemic: A Bigger Picture

There is no doubt that 2020 has been one of the most trying years in modern history and for numerous reasons. For people struggling with eating disorders or those who have dealt with them in the past, 2020 was especially difficult, which - unfortunately - is not surprising.

Psychological and emotional issues are still on the rise, as confirmed by multiple studies. A study from JAMA Network Open reported that depression cases among adults in the US is more than 3-fold higher compared to cases pre-COVID-19. And many mental health concerns, such as anxiety, can take their toll on people struggling with eating disorders. In some cases, it may even result in a relapse.

Eating disorders during the pandemic is a tricky yet serious discussion.

Here's what you need to know about the issues, potential treatments for eating disorders and other cities and how you can manage or help your loved ones.

What Eating Disorders During COVID-19 is Really Like 

Eating disorders during a pandemic isn't about mindless snacking or stress-eating because you're bored in isolation. Soothing yourself with comfort foods when you feel bored, stressed or anxious is a natural response to COVID-19. If you lose your appetite due to stress or anxiety, forgetting to eat is also normal. It only becomes a problem when these responses increase in frequency. You start to restrict excessively or overeat frequently.

This is when you know you or a loved one is experiencing an eating disorder.

Since eating disorders are triggered by drastic life changes, such as being unable to see friends and loved ones due to social distancing, the increase in eating disorders is, unfortunately, making sense. In Australia, a June 2020 survey revealed that individuals with a history of eating disorders reported an increase in purging, restricting and binge eating since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdowns.

How the Pandemic is Intensifying Eating Disorders

Eating disorders often go hand-in-hand with other mental health concerns. People with eating disorders often experience anxiety or depression. With the "new normal" cementing its status around the world, emotions are still at an all-time high. The new reality increases an individual's stress levels, which may trigger them to succumb to their eating disorders.

Three stressors related to COVID-19 can worsen eating disorders. Here are some of them and how you can manage each one.

Trigger 1: Stay-At-Home Orders

Isolation is a breeding ground for eating disorders. The pandemic enhanced isolation and feelings of disconnection, which can contribute to an individual's relapse. Also, being forced to work from home and having easy access to the kitchen pantry can cause individuals to spiral into unhealthy eating habits. It's not about being physically near the refrigerator that increases your "want" to eat; it's the idea of being near the fridge that increases your risk for mindless eating.

Some people may feel the need to restrict themselves from eating to "manage their appetite." On the other side of the spectrum, people prone to bingeing may succumb to eating, especially if there's no one else available to notice.

How to cope: reach out to a family or friend and be honest. Be accountable for your eating habits and tell them how you're feeling. If seeing each other is impossible, chat over video or phone.

Trigger 2: Social Media Scrolls

Endless social media scrolling coupled with emotions is called Doomscrolling. It is also known as the act of spending endless time on social media, reading a thread of depressing, dreadful and scary posts in your timeline. This can harm you in two ways: it worsens anxiety and increases the need to cope with these feelings by eating.

How to cope: Hide, unfollow or block accounts that worsen your anxiety. Disable news alerts on your phone, too. If an app is no longer helpful to your mental health, delete them. You can always put them back when you feel better.

Trigger 3: The Empty Grocery Shelves

Seeing empty grocery shelves in your supermarket or hearing about food shortages can affect you psychologically. Hoarding food can also make some people feel like eating. Also, people recovering from their food disorders may feel uncomfortable with breaking their routine, which can trigger their symptoms, causing a relapse. Most often, people struggling with an eating disorder will only eat a specific brand of food. If that brand is unavailable, they may not eat at all. For example, if the local grocery is out of parboiled rice, a brand the individual prefers, the person may not eat for a long time until the rice is restocked.

How to cope: work with a dietitian. If possible, shop with a support person. They can encourage you and help you relax as you shop.

The pandemic may increase the likelihood of a relapse, but help is still available. It's best to get help as soon as possible instead of struggling more with eating disorders on your own.

No comments:

Post a Comment