THE NATIONAL EATING DISORDERS ASSOCIATION HELPLINE HAD A 78% INCREASE IN TRAFFIC IN MARCH AND APRIL
As our new normal changes, again and again, we struggle to return to our previous routines. The pandemic has created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, affecting every aspect of our lives. This overwhelming anxiety can trigger many different reactions in individuals. One of the growing issues thriving in this environment — disordered eating.
The conditions of the lockdown that swept the world mimic the conditions in which disordered eating takes advantage of: fear and isolation. While the stay at home order was essential to protecting individuals from contracting or spreading COVID-19, it also cut off numerous individuals from essential resources like social networks, therapy, medication, and support groups that aid in recovering from disordered eating. With an influx of virtual therapy sessions, many people who needed face-to-face time had to wait extended periods of time before receiving help. Reducing the time spent outside the house meant less frequent grocery runs. Even then, shelves were empty of products, making it harder to have fresh produce or other foods individuals were comfortable eating. These circumstances also made it easy to rationalize limiting food intake and skipping meals. Staying home also meant ceasing gym time. Without their regular workout schedule, some people’s fear of gaining weight became overbearing. Social media only amplified these thoughts, with many influencers and accounts joking about the “Quarantine 15” they were going to gain. These aspects, combined with the generalized fear and anxiety that came with trying to navigate a global pandemic, made many individuals fall into old (or new) habits.
The National Eating Disorders Association’s helpline had a 78% increase in traffic this past March and April than it did those months the year before. The sudden collapse of individual structure left people reeling. Eating disorders affect an estimated 20 million women in their lifetime and about half as many men. The existing stigma around disordered eating also creates a disadvantage for marginalized communities, including LGBTQ+ individuals and people of color. These groups are often overlooked by health professionals, making it harder for them to receive help when the prevalence of eating disorders is the same.
One of the biggest recommendations to help manage or prevent thoughts about disordered eating is to create your own routine amidst the chaos. Even if it is as simple as sleeping regularly, or making sure you eat three meals a day, having a pattern for yourself creates a sense of normalcy. Another tip includes limiting media exposure. The spectrum of opinions on how to spend your time, from the ignorance of gaining weight to the demands to use this time to be productive, can feel insurmountable. Try engaging in other activities to relieve stress, such as reading, puzzling, or playing with your pets.
If you are feeling anxious or are concerned about your eating behavior, reach out to various resources. Support networks have popped up on social media pages like Facebook Groups to recreate the sense of community. Telehealth services are up and running if you want to speak to a doctor or therapist. NEDA and Crisis Text Line have chat, call and text features to talk with someone confidentially. Even talking with friends or loved ones, either virtually or socially distant, can relieve stress and anxiety.
For more information on how eating disorders disproportionately affect black women, check out the reading list created by The Emily Program.