Managing disordered eating during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging for all of us. It’s new, it’s strange, it’s uncertain, and it’s stressful. Many people can accept they will overeat during this period, but they will move on when it’s over and it won’t cause extreme distress. However, for those that struggle with disordered eating or eating disorders, it may be much more challenging. 

Why is this time particularly challenging for those with disordered eating or eating disorders? Here are a few reasons:

  • At their core, eating disorders are an attempt to manage uncomfortable emotions. And this situation is ripe with discomfort. Therefore, disordered eating behaviours may be triggered. This can include bingeing, purging, restricting, over-exercising, or unhealthy use of weight loss aids. 
  • Being at home and surrounded by food with minimal distraction is challenging for those with bingeing tendencies, as is the necessity of buying larger amounts of food than usual to decrease grocery trips. 
  • The perception of food scarcity can contribute to restricting behaviours. Those that have specified meal plans as a part of their recovery may experience anxiety about availability of the foods in their plan.  
  • Messaging around controlling what is within our control may reinforce disordered eating behaviours, which focus on control. 
  • Disordered eating behaviours feed off us feeling alone, lonely, and unloved. This can be triggered by social isolation, particularly for those that live alone. A lack of engagement and positive distraction also allows the voice of an eating disorder to become louder. 
  • Many people with disordered eating engage in secretive eating. This becomes more difficult if you are never alone, which can cause distress. 
  • Closure of sport and leisure facilities may trigger an increase in exercise-related distress. 

What can you do to stay supported and on track if you struggle with disordered eating? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Practice good general health practices. See here for a previous post about general health strategies for the pandemic. 
  • Accept that this is a difficult time and your recovery may not be perfect, Or anywhere near perfect. Now is not the time to expect an A+. It’s okay to struggle. But stay focused on recovery.
  • Avoid and unfollow fat phobic messages on social media. Nobody needs added shame about body image at this time. Remember that our job is not to come out of a pandemic thin; it’s to come out alive. Curate your social media feed to be supportive. Many businesses profit from body image shame. Be an informed consumer and think critically about what you are following. Many messages will be masked with the label of health when they are, in fact, fat phobic. 
  • Reach out for support. Contact your local eating disorder support organizations. Most are offering services online, as are many therapists and dietitians. In Alberta, EDSNAis offering online support. 
  • Use self-compassion to address the guilt you may feel from urges to engage in disordered eating behaviours. 
  • Focus on low intensity exercise. It is helpful to move but an eating disorder may cling to the idea of intense exercise as a way to control weight. 
  • Find positive distractions that are not body focused: garden, paint, read a book, do a puzzle. 
  • If you have a specified meal plan and are concerned about availability of food, speak to your nutrition professional about a plan B and C. 
  • Stay connected to others to ward off loneliness. 
  • Find ways to express your emotions: journal, talk to someone about how you’re feeling, use art or music to express yourself, or simply name your emotions. 
  • Commit to a regular meal schedule. A consistent routine will help to prevent slipping into disordered patterns.

For those struggling with disordered eating and eating disorders, this can be a very difficult time. However, your recovery need not stop; it may just need to pivot. Take it a day at a time and remember that each day is a new start. 

Click here for information on eating disorder counselling at Monarch Psychology. 



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We are a team of compassionate and welcoming Psychologists and Social Workers in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. We create space to understand people and their stories by looking beyond symptoms and diagnoses. Learn more about our team here

Nicole Caines