2022 - Covid...you are feeding my Eating Disorder
By Alana Dulgaro
2022 is kicking off and so is the latest season of you know what! Eating Disorders are skyrocketing....Here's what you need to know....
We’ve hit 92% of vaccinations in adults, we’ve been released back into the world, and yet, many of us are feeling far from ‘free’! Cases are exploding, stores are wiped out, and we are side eyeing each other like never before.
If you've developed eating disorder symptoms out of nowhere, or if an old eating disorder has suddenly re-emerged or become worse, you are not alone....
Eating disorders are intensifying.
Meet the culprits:
Stress We’re driven to self-soothe under stress and this is a stressful time...
Food soothes. To the brain, eating = safety. Control works too. When you have control over something – anything - floods of endorphins send messages, saying “you are safe, you’ve got this.” It feels reassuring – even if you have zero control over the actual stressful thing.
When we lean on these soothers too much, it's a slippery slope into eating disorder territory. i.e., emotional binge-eating and rigid calorie control.
Lower life satisfaction: Just because we’re out of lockdown doesn’t mean we’ve got our whole lives back. Many offices are continuing ‘work from home’, singing and dancing are banned, and most of us are holding back from medium-to-high-risk activities for our own safety. We’re still doing life on a smaller scale.
Preventing and beating an eating disorder relies on finding satisfaction in who you are, and the life you lead. When you’re doing life on a smaller scale, you’re creating less memories that enrich your sense of self. This can make it hard to see yourself clearly, inviting eating disorder thoughts and behaviours to creep in.
Confinement: It seems like every second day, someone we know is getting a positive result. Aside from having to isolate as close contacts, most people are staying in, to stay safe. For some, spending more time at home means more exposure to complicated relationships and triggering comments.
Social media and diet culture: With less access to our usual lifestyles, and more time on our own, we are being drawn right into social media. A very positive thing when used mindfully, social media is home to some of the most potent diet culture messages out there. We're being exposed to the ‘thin ideal’ more than usual, and with everything else going on, this is ramping up eating disorder thoughts and temptations.
Food insecurity: Panic buying has returned, and so has food insecurity. This means stockpiling, and more triggers for binge-eating episodes. For people with restrictive eating disorders, losing access to ‘safe foods’ can mean eating nothing at all.
Fear of contagion: ‘Orthorexia’ describes obsessive and rigid ‘healthy’ eating behaviours – the kind that are, ultimately, unhealthy. Even though vaccination rates are high, the risk of actual infection is also high. For anyone with health anxiety or OCD, this can be terrifying and can lead to hypervigilant health behaviours, like Orthorexia.
Familiar? You are not alone!
Here's what will help:
Reel in the judgemental self-talk.
When we look in the mirror and start throwing around ‘opinion’ words, we’re not being fair to ourselves, or even accurate! There’s a big difference between “good, bad, ugly,” and “I have arms, I have legs, my eyes are brown.” One is judgemental and contributes to appearance anxiety, the other is an objective description. When you look in the mirror, remember to say Hi first...
Empower yourself with social media.
Social media can be used for good or for evil. When you take the reins, you get to choose. Switch out the body-based content for art, culture, and lifestyle pages instead. Everything can shift when you’re exposed exclusively to hand-picked content all day!
Compliment everything but appearance.
When we compliment people on appearance, we’re reinforcing body-judgement in ourselves. A great way to shift perspectives is to compliment awesome, non-body-based qualities in other people as often as you can. When you have some momentum, you can try the same on yourself!
Swap comparison for connection.
The more we laugh and join forces with other people, the more we get to experience ourselves in the most honest and loving ways. Interactions that are light, mutual, and fun will do wonders for your mental health. Even in the quietest of times, apps, podcasts can be a great way to have some positive and uplifting interactions.
Commit to regular eating.
With uncertainty hanging around, now is the time to get intentional about regular eating. Creating automatic, predictable, healthy behaviours can keep eating disorder habits at bay. It can also help to eat with other people as much as possible, even for a snack
If stress is a trigger for you and you can pinpoint what’s adding to it – social media, the news, certain conversations, now is the time to consider what you can control. Now is the time to draw some lines. Say no! If you can’t eliminate the stress completely, reduce it as much as you can – even 5 mins away from these things can make a big difference.
Go to therapy!
Research has shown time and time again that a good therapeutic relationship is the single biggest predictor of good mental health outcomes. A therapist will have your back, they will listen to understand, they will problem-solve with you, and they will celebrate your wins with you. Above and beyond this, connecting with a treatment team – a psychologist, a GP and a dietitian, will put three experts in your corner - one for your mind, one for your body and one for your nutrition. Fun fact: medicare will rebate all three. If you already have a team, now’s the time to re-connect!
Remember that this is a tough time, you are doing the best you can and you are not alone!
Advice for loved ones of people with ED's:
Check in with your loved ones - send regular texts, facetime, call, meet up with them now that the option is more available. Be sensitive and kind. Ask how they want to be supported, and always be led by them.
If your loved one is engaged in treatment, encourage, support and keep up with where they are at...
Try to encourage and provide structured meal times wherever possible.
Try to talk about it with them and if they don’t want to talk about it, let them know you are there when they want to and that you will keep on asking 😊
Contact Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673 for more resources and information.