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Coping With an Eating Disorder During Lockdown


Trigger Warning: This blog does not intend to trigger anyone suffering from an eating disorder, but if you are in a vulnerable position, please do not read. I am not an eating disorder professional, just an individual sharing their experience. Your health always comes first. Stay safe.

With the world on pause, the NHS in a crisis, having a mental health condition feels selfish. People are losing their lives, and here I am complaining about something so relative. It takes strength to continually remind yourself that having an eating disorder is not a choice. It never was a choice. It never will be a choice.

I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at the age of thirteen. Now, seven years on, it is fair to say my family are well aware of the signs and symptoms of the disorder. The nature of anorexia is insidious. What starts as an innocent diet can quickly deteriorate into a full-blown eating disorder. This was the nature of how my eating disorder started. 

At the start of lockdown, the thought of being stuck in the house 24 hours a day with no escape took me to a dark place. I saw a tweet comparing lockdown to being in an eating disorder unit where days are spent waiting for the next meal or the next indoor activity – the similarities are uncanny. In many ways, lockdown does resemble being on an eating disorder unit; the only catch is: there is not the constant support of professionally trained nurses and therapists, nor is there a dietician providing you with an individual meal plan detailing the specific amount of calories you require to stay alive. It is down to you to make the decision. 

The announcement of lockdown felt like I was being sectioned. All responsibility had been taken out of my hands, and there was nothing I could do apart from complying. Without any structure, my mind usually spirals into an unhealthy cycle of deeming all I do as “unproductive” and a “waste of time”. Eating seemed another empty chore on the list.

The other superficial problem turned into a catastrophe for my structure-hungry brain was the fact that gyms were closing. Call it what you want: cross-addiction or coping mechanism, I am someone who has always found exercise as a way to keep myself motivated. But that is not to say that you cannot be a motivated person without doing exercise. It is just something that has worked for me. (Side note: the idea that food can only be earned through exercise is a myth I am more than happy to falsify). Between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, I was “banned” from using the gym since it was deemed too much of a risk to my fragile state of health. At sixteen, I plucked up the courage to ask the professional I was seeing to have permission to return to the gym and, to my surprise, I was allowed. The eating disorder voice relished at the news. However, I was under strict supervision and allowed to do no more than 25 minutes. My eating disorder hated the restriction and to be honest so did I. It felt impossible to ever truly get into a workout when you are being constantly watched. But years on and I can understand the worry my family had seen me slave away on the unforgiving cardio machines. 

Two years later, when I finally decided that there was only so many minutes you could do on the treadmill and so many hours spent gazing at the calorie display I decided to use the gym as a way to vent my stress. A form of catharsis. And a place where I could look after my body as opposed to destroying it. Hence, when it was announced that all gyms were closing, it is understandable why I felt negative about it. After spending so long working towards being able to use the gym for the right reasons, it felt as if it had all been taken away from me again. Yet, this time, it wasn’t of my doing. It was courtesy of a global pandemic. 

Lockdown would be the ideal time to allow eating disorder thoughts to trickle into my life again. But it would also be a challenging time to relapse. Being in a house with your family intensifies everyone’s habits and routines. If I began to restrict and engage in previous eating disorder behaviours, it would be all too obvious. My friends and family have witnessed it all in me: the relapses, the therapy sessions, an inpatient admission, the CAHMS appointments. Sirens echo and red lights flash when it is evident that I am “cutting down”. This can be really frustrating at times. What about the days when you just aren’t hungry or when you fancy doing a more extended exercise session? Eyebrows are raised, and people worry that you are resorting to old ways. However, hard at times, it can be to accept, I now have an awareness that it is because they care. No, it is not them wanting to see you “get fat”, it is because they are scared that it will lead you back to your lowest point. A point of complete and utter nothingness. It may not necessarily be when you were at you your lowest weight. It is the point where you no longer see the end to anything, or at least that is my definition of my lowest point of this illness. 

With sheer grit and determination, I have been in a state where I am no longer actively listening to anorexia or the grim anorexic voice. Call it quasi-recovery, it is the only thing that has kept me alive. To say I am recovered is a lie. Equally, to admit I have been in the recovery process presents me with a mixture of emotions: happiness, frustration, anger, numbness and more. While I want to make peace with myself, I do not think that I will ever (completely) be able to. I will settle with where I am because it is far far away from that abyss that I used to think was a life.

Hence, with lockdown restrictions now being eased, it makes me feel proud that I have survived it (albeit there have been a few ups and downs). Here I wanted to share my top tips of how, amidst having an eating disorder, I have coped.

My first tip is: DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF TO WHAT OTHER PEOPLE ARE DOING ON THE INTERNET. Just because Karen is doing four workouts a day on her Instagram live does not mean you need to be. Do what is right for you and if that is a 10-minute walk or 50-minute yoga session that’s great. Do not allow the world of Instagram to deceive you. It can be a vortex of an edited reality. There is a distinction between the filter-perfect “reality” you see online and everyday life.

Establish a Routine. Whether that be the time you wake up, to when you are speaking to your friend on Zoom or when you are playing Sims, having a routine is so important. I personally find writing it down helps me stay accountable for the day ahead. I like to list out the things I want to achieve over the week, as well as writing To-Do lists on the day. I know it sounds excessive and I am aware lists are not for everything, but I would recommend writing a routine out if you haven’t tried it before.

Leading on from this I would also say Stick to Regular Mealtimes. Do not let yourself get into a habit of one day skipping a meal because it was too late to the next day allowing it to become a routine to miss that meal. There is a reason why humans need three meals a day. Regardless of what the eating disorder voice tells you, you are no different. 

I also cannot encourage Getting Outside Once A Day more. Make this non-negotiable. 

Talk to people. Sometimes we all need to talk to someone other than our family members. It helps to hear that you are not the only one having a difficult week.

Read. With seventy books set to read on my Goodreads annual challenge,  lockdown gave me the ideal opportunity to read those books that I have always said I wanted to read but never got around too. And by reading I really mean anything; even if you are not an Austen fan, how about subscribing to the New Yorker? Or listening to an audio-book? There are so many ways you can ingest literature and knowledge.

Give yourself something to look forward to each week. Be kind to yourself, knowing that you have an online shopping order once a week could be the thing that keeps you motivated during the week. Or, perhaps having a night where you watch your favourite film or get a takeaway coffee out – these are just three suggestions. I know it may sound silly but it can be the little things that might make the difference between a rough week versus a rough week made less rough by ordering the TALA sports bra you have been eyeing up for months. 

This is not a miracle article, nor the step by step guide to erasing your eating disorder over lockdown, but a vignette of ways to cope during a period of global uncertainty. Know that there is support out there as long as you want it badly enough. I am only ever an email or Instagram message away. Equally, B-eat offers a great email support service run by volunteers (of which I am one) as well as online support groups both individuals suffering from an eating disorder and as well as loved ones caring for a sufferer. Stay safe, stay strong.

Lots of Love,

Is