Managing an Eating Disorder During Quarantine

VP Welfare & Diversity Lucy Simpson shares her advice to help those of you finding it difficult to manage an eating disorder during the new challenges caused by life under lockdown.

Lucy Simpson, VP Welfare & Diversity

Amongst the many new challenges to life under quarantine/lockdown, food shortages, being stuck indoors, and changes to our routines, it can be exceptionally difficult to manage an eating disorder.

Fortunately, there are ways in which we can work towards managing mental health, even when everything else may seem uncertain or difficult. BEAT has come up with a great FAQ for managing during the pandemic. They have also developed an online chatroom, The Sanctuary, for people to share their concerns and anxieties about coronavirus. It is described as a safe space for people with an eating disorder to share concerns and advice on how they are coping with the pandemic. 

There are some key actions which can help us manage this difficult time and I’ve tried to outline some below (please be aware that not all of these will work for everyone and keep in mind what is and isn’t unhealthy for you personally).

Lucy's Top Tips

1. Stay in contact with your treatment team (where possible)

If you have an outpatient team, therapist or other supporters then staying in touch with them is really important. They can help encourage you to continue to meet your goals, and check in to see how you are feeling. Try and stay in contact with them over the phone, video chat or even just email.

2. Utilise support apps

There are a few apps that you may find useful in creating a routine, and staying on top of your eating disorder. Recovery Record is a great app where you can log meals, create meal plans, develop coping skills and look at your own data and insights. Recovery Warriors is another good app where you can record your emotional recovery - it helps you track meals, emotions, thoughts and behaviours which are all techniques used during formal therapies such as CBT. Headspace (or other meditation apps) are also really popular for managing emotions and anxieties by helping you develop the ability to let thoughts come and go without them overly troubling you – including negative, intrusive thoughts. Mindfulness takes a bit of practice but has been shown to be effective in helping people manage stress.

3. Keep a journal

If you don’t already, or you prefer not to use apps, then keeping a journal can be an alternative way of pouring out your emotions in a safe way. The privacy means you never have to share it with anyone else and can write the things that you would never say out loud. Writing down your emotions can help to explain to yourself the way you feel (which can be very confusing a lot of the time), and can also be quite cathartic. Everyone’s journal is different, you don’t have to write in it daily or in any particular format. You could doodle, write up your dreams, or even write poems. A journal is simply a safe space to express your emotions, positive and negative.

4. Try and develop a new food routine

If you find it difficult to stick to your eating habits now that we are in lockdown, it may be time to try something new. It might be something small, swapping pasta for rice, or using Quorn instead of fresh meat. Small changes are the most sustainable and easiest to do, step outside of your comfort zone a small step at a time and don’t push yourself all at once.

Also, be mindful that you don’t necessarily have to fit into your family’s routine. Maybe you struggle to eat the food that they have prepared, or you aren’t hungry at the same time? Ask to cook for yourself so you’re able to maintain control over your recovery habits. Maybe, having family around again is a good thing? You could even ask them to make sure you’re eating at regular intervals, or not binging. It’s completely up to what works for you and your relationship with your family (or housemates). If you’re isolating on your own, maybe you can ask them to check on you virtually instead?

Keeping on top of your mental health

There are lots of other ways in which you can keep on top of your mental health during this difficult period. BEAT has some really amazing resources available online - you can get tips from other people who struggle with disordered eating, and find an online community of people who really understand what it is you’re going through and can help you, just as you can help support them. An important thing I need to remind you of is that you are not alone.

Most importantly, remember that NHS mental health services are still functioning, albeit often in a new way. If you need emergency care, you can absolutely ask for support. If you need to speak to a GP, they are still there for you, and talking therapies are also continuing to work. Whilst lots of places are no longer physically open, critical support is still open for you to access.

Times are difficult for us all right now, especially for those with underlying physical and mental health conditions. It’s all too easy to lose hope or give up, and there will inevitably be ups and downs. We will get through this together, finding strength in one another and knowing that fighting a mental health condition does not make us weak; it makes us warriors, strong enough to keep going and to fight another day.