Maintaining Eating Disorders During a Pandemic

By Morgan Blair – MA, Intern 

verified by Psychology Today

In more ways than not, our lives have been uprooted by the COVID-19 outbreak. Businesses are closed, orders to stay at home are in place, and people are rushing to Walmart to stock up for an apocalypse. We wake up with nowhere to go and nowhere to be, isolated in our homes in order to protect our communities.

Sure, some work from home now, there’s still the dog to take out, and there are kids to take care of. In some ways, life goes on as planned, but the plans look different now. School is from home while parents are struggling to maintain some sort of normalcy. Unemployment is rising while others are thriving in their new privilege of wearing pajamas to work. Health care workers can’t catch a break while small businesses are closing their doors. Then if you are like me, you are baffled, asking yourself what the heck is going on. 

Emotional Overload

This is not a time of normalcy or stability. This is a time of transition, of sadness, worry, and confusion. This is a time in history that no one believed we would have to live through. But, here we are, floundering to find a new schedule in the midst of chaos.

Chaos is a word that I want to lean into a little bit more because it reminds me of my work with eating disorders. These disorders thrive in control and routine. There is comfort in the rituals of eating behaviors and unhealthy exercise routines.

Eating disorders, for many, develop as a means to fend off chaos and lean into stability. Whether restriction, binging, overexercising, purging, or the countless other behaviors, comfort is found in their ability to help a person cope.

So what happens when society is in a state of panic when chaos is all around, and when our lives are completely turned around? Those in recovery are suddenly put into a petri-dish of the perfect conditions for relapse. The temperature is just right, the cabinets are stocked full, and you are holed up in your home alone.


The world is experiencing a pandemic right now so it might be challenging to validate our internal struggles. In my counseling sessions, I have heard many clients discount their current struggles with life’s circumstance because “everyone is going through it”. Sure, we are all experiencing repercussions of this virus, but that doesn’t negate the fact that we each experience this time differently. And, for those in recovery from an eating disorder, that means that it is okay to admit to struggling.

It is not selfish or close-minded to acknowledge that this pandemic is heightening thoughts, urges, or behaviors. It is not selfish to talk about something other than COVID-19. There appears to be a misconception right now that due to the new quarantine restrictions put into place, suddenly all previous struggles go away. I would argue the opposite. Because we are dealing with a pandemic, our previous emotional struggles are exacerbated, meaning we must be extra cognizant of our own personal needs.  

So, for those in recovery here is my message to you. It is okay to struggle. It is okay to take it easy. It is okay to not exercise. It is okay to snack. It is okay to be anxious. It is okay to notice where you are at. Whatever is coming up for you right now, does NOT take away from the progress you have made.

Reframe negative thinking

The food in your pantry to a life source. The rest you are taking is preventative. The anxiety you are feeling is natural. And guess what, you are not alone. Even though we are forced to distance ourselves from others, we are in this fight together. No matter how far down you feel you are, if you keep moving, crawling, breathing, you are still making progress in your recovery.

For everyone else, don’t assume that people are having the same experiences as you are. Don’t assume that by acknowledging our similar circumstances that you can downplay your own battles. We all have struggles right now. Each one unique. Each one is valid. Stop comparing yourself to others. Get off social media where the pressures to exercise, be productive, and continue with the pressures of life are endlessly preached. Take some time to do for yourself what your mind, body, and spirit have been begging from you for the last several weeks.

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