Eating Disorder Relapse in Quarantine

The circumstances, nationwide as well as worldwide are quite unusual. The global, economic and social ramifications have been highlighted. On the other hand every individual is struggling with their own mental health, deteriorating due to the lockdown. Certain disorders or even thoughts tend to overpower people in such situations. Especially for the individuals with Eating Disorders, or the ones in recovery, the quarantine period could prove to be an extremely daunting time.

Eating Disorders are essentially described as an illness that is characterized by irregular eating habits and severe distress or concern about body weight or shape. Eating disturbances may include inadequate or excessive food intake which can ultimately damage an individual’s well-being. The most common forms of eating disorders include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder and affect both females and males.

These disorders often follow a pattern wherein stress inducing situations might lead the individual to find an area in their life that they can control (OCD has been found to be highly comorbid with Eating Disorders). Easily manipulated areas of life could be the amount of food they are intaking/restricting or the amount of compensatory behaviour they can perform (Froreich, Vartanian,Grisham, & Touyz, 2016). Eating Disorders also have a genetic and sociocultural component which cannot be discounted but in times where the external situations are absolutely out of an individual’s control, they might resort to other ways of gaining the control back.

This is where the old patterns of eating disorders might come back in. Certain public actions at the moment are reinforcing unhealthy coping mechanisms used in Eating disorders, such as:

● There are social media threads going around these days that overemphasise the need for working out and antagonising weight gain/fat gain.

● Due to the lockdown, there have been instances where individuals are hoarding food out of the fear that the food available will not be available for a longer duration.

● The hoarding of food also leads to the thought that food rationing might be required in the coming days. This could indubitably mean rationing and restricting calories.

● In order to improve the immune systems, there has been an emphasis on eating healthy and focusing on nutrition rich food (which could trigger patterns of orthorexia, not yet recognised by DSM V). Hence, controlling the kind of food being consumed.

● Gyms, parks and public areas have also been closed which could lead to individuals re- engaging in extremely restrictive dietary behaviours.

Eating Disorder thrives on patterns, routines and regulations. Especially when the individuals suffering from or recovering from eating disorders have excessive time on their hands, they usually fall back into the pattern of ruminating about food, calories, restriction, etc. In times like these there are always certain tips that people could follow in order to keep themselves from falling back into dysfunctional patterns.

● Self care- Creating a self care checklist could lead to performing certain tasks in favour of one’s body and mind. The checklist could comprise tasks such as meditating and doing yoga, keeping yourself hydrated, connecting with friends and family through the day, limiting social media usage (Specifically pages or posts which highlighting weight and diet), learning a skill (Guitar, singing, painting,etc), limiting the time spent watching news and other media,listening to music.

● Identifying the stress factors- Sometimes the chain of thinking and controlling eating and compensatory behaviour arise from a few stress causing triggers. Being mindful about the stress triggers can be a good way of minimising the repetitive actions. Eg- Social media posts about losing weight while in quarantine could trigger over compensatory physical action. Distancing self from that particular social media page or minimizing the usage could be a more functional option.

● Creating a routine- It’s very easy to fall back into disordered eating patterns when the schedule around us is haphazard. For some, recovery is easier when they are away from home and the fridge and TV and for some it’s easier when they are home following their daily routine. It’s imperative that you create a schedule for the day in both cases, wherein meal and snack times can be monitored and the day is filled with other productive activities to do.

● Keeping the social support intact- Eating Disorder thrive in isolation. Maintaining a social circle and support is very important in these unusual times. Technology is our best friend, using apps such as house parties,skype, facetime can help you stay connected, especially for people away from home.

● Accepting that you need help- Relapse is a step in recovery and recovery is never linear. Accepting that the circumstances are difficult and reaching out for help is a sign of grit and strength.

Eating Disorders are not a battle that needs to be fought alone. Seeking help either from friends and family or professionally is always a wise decision. Since there is a lot of uncertainty and a loss of sense of control, it will create chaos in our minds. Following a few guidelines and asking for support when needed can be a gamechanger in these dire situations.


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