When I was 19 years old, I developed an eating disorder. I was a high-performing Ivy-league, division-1 collegiate athlete with severe body dysmorphia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia. I was in and out of outpatient treatment programs and therapy for years until I gained control of this evil disease that wreaked havoc on my self-esteem, body image, digestive system, and psyche. While I am no longer bulimic and have not been in 10 years, the disease is still triggered from time to time and it’s a battle that I must face each and every day. Now that I’ve been quarantined for over 50 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve unfortunately felt triggered once again and I wondered, “why now?” While I’d love to keep this to myself (as most eating disorders thrive in isolation), I’ve also thought, “I can’t be the only one with these triggering feelings.”

Eating Disorders During COVID-19 Pandemic

Eating disorders are difficult for a multitude of reasons, but one main one is that food is necessary for survival, and thus, a part of everyday life. Individuals with eating disorders must face their disease multiple times a day – morning, noon, and night. It’s exhausting. When you have an eating disorder, you look at foods as “good” and “bad.” You look at food as control instead of enjoyment or nutrition.

Now, I’ve noticed that quarantine can be triggering on many levels when it relates to my relationship with food and body image, specifically with:

  • Uncertainty about the future / lack of control
  • Easy access to an abundance of food (I know I’m fortunate to have food right now, but I’d be lying if I didn’t mention how triggering this was)
  • Lack of normal routine / healthy outlets i.e. social relationships, the gym, and work.

I have noticed that while I’m … 10+ years out of “recovery,” I still have to CHOOSE a certain thought pattern every day or else I can dip into old ways. Some days, I do dip in. But there is SOMETHING about the quarantine…maybe not just something about quarantine, but many things about quarantine that are triggering.  What is it about the climate right now that is so triggering?  Why are do normal coping mechanisms seem so challenging?

  • Is it the uncertainty?
  • Lack of control?
  • Abundance of food?
  • On the flip side of that, access to less (“healthy”) food?
  • Isolation?
  • Lack of “outlets” / routine?
  • Is it all of the memes that make fun of the quarantine 15 / weight gain?

I’m not a therapist and I don’t know all of the answers. I can only speak from experience on the things that have helped me cope during this time:

  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Calling & FaceTiming Friends / Family
  • Talking to a therapist
  • Sharing my emotions with my husband and close friends
  • Long Walks
  • Honoring to take things one day at a time

If you have been struggling with an eating disorder and/or are triggered by the pandemic and quarantine, contact the National Eating Disorder Hotline at 800-931-2237.