The Covid-19 pandemic that is spreading across the globe has sparked a culture of panic buying and stockpiling, as people’s concerns grow about the need to self-isolate. The more that people panic buy, the more that we also feel the need to panic buy, as we feel uncertain about when things will be back in stock.
What is disordered eating?
Along with the clinically diagnosable eating disorders of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS), there is a sub-clinical category of individuals who also suffer from disordered eating.
These might be individuals who have some but not all of the symptoms necessary for a diagnosis, or they might have all of the symptoms but not at a diagnosable level. For the purposes of this blog post, the terms ‘disordered eating’ will cover all forms of eating disorder, whether clinically diagnosable or sub-clinical.
Read more about disordered eating
How does panic buying impact disordered eating?
For many people who have experienced an eating disorder or a disordered relationship with food at all, these panic buying thoughts might feel somewhat familiar. A writer at The Mighty stated;
At a very low point in my life, I struggled to fight anorexia. At this time my brain was in a constant state of food shortage. When I would go to a supermarket at that time, I would have a very stressful experience. I developed so many fears of food that I couldn’t touch or eat, so despite a fully stocked store, almost every shelf of food looked like the empty shelves in the present day.
Empty supermarkets can cause people with a history of disordered eating to feel anxious as they latch onto the idea that food is scarce. It can become an excuse to justify restrictive eating.
Furthermore, most of the foods that people are stockpiling are foods that are feared by those with a history of disordered eating. They are mostly processed, packaged and frozen foods. People with a history of eating disorders, more specifically anorexia but others can be included as well, have a very narrow range of foods that they feel comfortable with. Suddenly not being able to find their preferred foods, the foods that they feel comfortable with, can cause a spike in anxiety and an increased impulse to restrict.
Many people who are in recovery, may not have fully embraced all of the foods that were previously off-limits. However, with the apparent shortage of foods at the moment, they may be forced to tackle their fears of high-calorie and more processed foods such as pasta and freezer foods sooner than they had hoped.
How does self-isolating impact disordered eating?
Self-isolating in itself can cause higher levels of anxiety and stress. For someone with disordered eating or a history of eating disorders, the levels of anxiety can be even higher.
Eating disorders thrive in isolation. They love anything to do with rules and limits. These very real limits that are being imposed upon all of us – staying away from restaurants, bars, cafes, and social gatherings – are a perfect storm for those with a history of eating disorders.
For those with a history of bingeing food, a way of coping might have been to keep small amounts of food in the house and regularly top up. Therefore, staying at home with food spilling out of cupboards can be a recipe for disaster. We are in a state of high stress and anxiety, which is when binge eating usually kicks in, and we are surrounded by food. Being in isolation only heightens the possibility that a binge will occur as there is no one around to witness.
For those with a history of bulimia nervosa, the same triggers as above apply. However, the usual modus operandi for someone who bulimia nervosa is to purge the consumed food in some way; whether through vomiting, using laxatives, or over-exercising. A feeling of shame or guilt usually follows a binge and/or purge, but with the current state of the supermarkets, this feeling of guilt might increase.
Another way that self-isolating might impact disordered eating is the perceived lack of exercise. With many gyms temporarily closing, and man people now working from home or not going to school, it might seem impossible to get in the ‘required’ number of steps to burn ‘enough’ calories. Again, this can lead to an increased desire to restrict food intake.
Tips for combating disordered eating during Covid-19
The tips here are more specific to dealing with disordered eating during self-isolation and coronavirus. For some tips on combatting disordered eating generally, click here.
1. Be compassionate with yourself.
It is a stressful and highly anxious time and many people are reacting and coping in their own ways. For someone with a history of disordered eating, returning to the disordered thoughts and behaviours is a go-to in times of stress. Don’t beat yourself up. Recognise what is happening and tell a trusted person what is going on for you.
2. Know that it isn’t going to fix anything
Remember that although disordered behaviours and thoughts are a coping mechanism, they aren’t actually fixing things. Anna Sweeny, a certified eating disorders clinician and dietician stated; “Instead, it will reinforce false thought patterns that suggest an eating disorder is the answer, when in fact right now there just isn’t an answer, except for washing our hands and staying away from other people to the best of our ability.”
3. Remember that foods aren’t good or bad
Your eating disorder thoughts may label foods as good or bad, acceptable or non-acceptable. It is important to try as hard as you can, at the moment, to push back against these thoughts and to remember that all foods are acceptable in moderation.
If you really aren’t comfortable, there are alternatives for those who can afford them, such as supermarket deliveries with smaller amounts but at your usual frequency, or getting takeaways from known and trusted restaurants.
4. You don’t need to restrict food in order to compensate for gyms closing
For those in recovery, avoiding the gym and limiting exercise is an important step in moving towards healing. It is important to know that the human body will be okay without exercising for a while. It can be difficult when we see others on Instagram and other social media sites posting their home workouts and emphasising the importance of keeping your workout routines up throughout isolation.
If you have been advised not to exercise at the moment, then it is okay to stick to this even through isolation. If you are able to exercise, it is important to know that you don’t have to exercise but that if you want to, you don’t need to go to the gym.
5. Establish a routine
Set up a schedule for eating regular meals and snacks throughout the day. As well as setting up times for these meals and snacks, you can also set up what foods you will eat at those times.
Set up a schedule for what you will do between those meal times. If you are working from home or studying from home, then you can put these tasks into your schedule. If not, then there are other tasks that you can put in. You might want to take the time to learn a new skill, start writing, painting, reading, do some DIY at home, and so on.
When setting goals for these tasks, it’s a good idea to put ‘work on …’ rather than ‘complete…’. This means that if you say that you will work on section A whatever project between 2 pm and 4 pm, and you don’t complete section A, there is no guilt involved. You worked on it, as you said you would, but if you didn’t complete it then that’s fine.
6. Stay connected
It is important for everyone to stay digitally connected at this time. You might be self-isolated with friends, family, a partner, or alone. Whatever your situation, it is important to stay connected with others through the use of technology. Set coffee dates with friends via FaceTime, Whatsapp, Skype, and any other video-call service. Schedule calls with loved ones and talk to someone about how you are feeling.
Seek out online support groups and forums. Find a professional to talk to online. Here at The Awareness Centre, we are offering sessions via video and over the phone. There is always some way of getting help, even when everything seems so up-in-the-air and uncertain.
If you’d like professional support for issues related to disordered eating, whether it relates to the coronavirus or not, then give our team a call. We have appointments available seven days a week. You can reach us by calling 020 8673 4545 or emailing [email protected].