Social distancing, staying in, and past eating disorders

Staying in is hard, it has always been something I have found difficult even hungover I will still go for a walk, to the horses or to the gym, I am a naturally restless person. I don’t enjoy not doing anything. As I have mentioned on here many times during my early 20s I struggled for years with anorexia, OCD and various other mental health issues some I still have to navigate through these days.

I am now fully recovered from anorexia and I have been for 8 ish years but it doesn’t mean some of the habits I had ingrained into my day to day routine have all left. These tend to be the habits with have little to do with food at all. The recipe collecting, the specific cutlery I use etc. I still carry a certain amount of guilt with me if I haven’t exercised during a day, although now my view of what is exercise is a lot healthier. I will consider a walk or just being outside enough instead of intense gym sessions every day. I hate the idea of not leaving the house. I don’t feel as though I have lived a day if I have not left the house which means I can’t eat three meals because three meals signifies a real day. It is these niggly feelings which can affect me more if I become stressed.

I still struggle with anxiety and I am finding in this situation I don’t do well with Corona-stress. I have always been good with stress, work doesn’t stress me out, life doesn’t really stress me out. (Although LOL I am sure a few family members spat their tea out at that). I am quite pragmatic and like problem-solving but coronavirus has been a problem I cannot solve and I am finding the stress of people seeing my family and not social distancing really unnerving it has caused me stress in waves I have never experienced before.

At first, when we began early stages of lockdown I really struggled. Ask my friends, the ones I have left.  I left WhatsApp groups and isolated myself away further. I was unable to message people without stressing or worrying. Fast forward a week and I am in a much better place, I have enjoyed the sun all this week. I am a sun sponge, wherever it is I will follow. I love a bit of vitamin D. I also set myself a bit of a structure and I have been lucky to see the horses at night. Thankfully because of the farm my day to day routine, Monday to Friday has not had to change too much. Which I know is an absolute privilege to have.

I wanted to write this post because of how I felt last week and how I have worked through it. I know I find it hard enough to know how to help myself at times so I understand it is difficult for family and friends to know what to do. This doesn’t just apply to eating disorders it applies to a number of mental health issues but I can only speak for myself. I have covered what would have helped me had I been in the midst of my eating disorder whilst Covid-19 was happening and what eases my anxiety now.

This blog flits between advice for individuals and for family and friends, I hope it is not too confusing it is just easier to add it all to one post.

The fear of gaining weight whist staying in and increased snacking

I can imagine this is the one so many of us are worried about. What self control will we have when we are stuck in the house all day with limited time and places to exercise? I hear ya, don’t worry. My tips would be

  1. Plan – I plan breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner out so I know what I am having. I am happy these days to go off-piste but it makes me feel better knowing roughly what I am having for each and to have it all in the house that day.
  2. Get a healthy amount of exercise in – I have a Fitbit and I make sure I do 10K steps a day if possible, it can often be less. If I have done that I feel like I have done enough. Some days I do a work out/ a run on top other days I just scrape the 10K steps but either way, a small plan to know I have moved helps ease the stress
  3. Yoga, it really does help everything
  4. If you are now living with family when you are use to sorting your own food then have a conversation with them, explain what foods and meals you feel safe with and foods you like to have in the house.
  5. Talk to friends we are all in a new territory so check-in and talk you will be surprised how similar situations are.

Not having access to ‘safe foods’ or enough access to them 

I am a creature of habit. I don’t know if it is ED related but if I like a food I will eat it over and over and I just don’t ever get bored. I will eat it until for some reason I don’t buy it again. I won’t list the number of meals I have lived off in a row. I just don’t get bored with the same food. For someone living with an ED or just struggling with anxiety, in general, the thought of their ‘safe foods’ (these are the food they feel comfortable eating every day which isn’t triggering and won’t cause them to purge or excessively exercise) not being to hand can be incredibly distressing. If you are someone living with someone presenting this then see what you can do to help. Can you pick these items up from the shops when you go? Can you help them think of less perishable foods which could make a good substitute? Get a good list of foods you/they are comfortable with which can stay in the house without having to make regular supermarket trips.

Plan in advance

This pandemic has thrown daily routine out of the window and we are all struggling to make sense. To manage my anxiety I have really tried to plan best I can. I stick to my usual morning routine which is a 6:30 alarm. I now read for an hour or find something funny to watch on the internet to start the day in a good mood, I write a quick gratitude list and get out of bed just after 7:30. I do a few house chores, make a green smoothie and then leave for work. I might start adding some morning yoga in as well now I have more time. I plan my day out, I get dressed, plan what I am going to eat, write a to-do list for the work I have to do and ideally think about what I am doing in the evening. Treating the day as I would if we weren’t going through a pandemic massively helps. It makes it feel more normal.

Have a distraction bank 

Avoid feeling bored, lonely, tired or stressed as these can often trigger to want control back. I find having a bank of ideas and distractions to hand when you begin to feel irritated useful. Irritated was the one feeling I felt SO often with an eating disorder and when my anxiety peaks. I can’t explain but it is so different from being annoyed. Irritated gets into your nerves and can make you lose your temper so fast. When I was younger I could honestly flip over the wrong item of food being in the house or the simplest of things not going to plan. Looking back it shocks me how different I was. So don’t be alarmed if you are reading this and it resonates. It’s this intense annoyance you cannot let go of. If you are tired get some fresh air and take a break if you are bored do something you enjoy, read a book, talk to a friend, watch something you enjoy, if you are stressed meditate, use affirmations or try to walk it off (god I hate that advice but it works).

Watch who you follow on socials 

There has been an influx of at-home workouts which is amazing but when they crop up every minute of the day it is hard to think you are not doing enough.  We have to be really careful with Orthorexia (the obsession with eating foods which we consider health and exercising a lot) and what we are promoting to each other. Just because someone eats very well exercises and says they are just ‘healthy’ it can fall under Orthorexia which too can be extremely triggering. If you are finding them overwhelming or you feel you are saving too many pages to go back to then just simply unfollow. Use socials to empower and not to worry yourself.

Keep good company

Eating Disorders can thrive better alone so if you have someone you are worried about who perhaps is self-isolating alone then make sure you do regular check-ins with them. Facetime is such wonderful use of technology and this is coming from someone who hates phone calls. I really hate them, they take up so much of my time, nonetheless I wouldn’t be sat here happily typing away had it not been for seeing my friends faces this week. This has massively changed my mood, my perspective and therefore my anxiety levels. I feel happy, healthy and cared for. If you can try and get friends who are struggling to chat, see facial expressions and social cues it will help.

Understand the stress

I think one of the most important things to remember is to understand their stress. I know its difficult I have been recovered ED sufferer watching someone do what I did before and thinking what the fuck are they doing? To watch is the most frustrating feeling I have ever had and I of all people should be able to understand. Understanding that their stress around their feelings, eating and situation is not their fault. ED suffers have as much control over those stresses as you do. So try to understand their stress, understand anxieties and worries, listen to what they say and just ask what you can do to make them feel more at ease. Trying to ignore it won’t help it will cause shame, addressing it to head-on will cause denial and embarrassment but by asking if there is anything you could to make it easier will at least help you all meet in the middle. It is really important to not make remarks as much as you may want to about eating and exercise habits, especially when we are all living in such close quarters. (I am talking from the point of mild mental health issues perhaps they are already seeing a therapist. If more server then, of course, seek actual professional or medical help). If this is something you are going through yourself, understand your stress as well.

Don’t push if they are struggling to make a decision

It’s not easy to decide when you have so many voices telling you no. Don’t push for an answer, it’s best to not make a fuss and just leave them to it as if it’s not a big deal. The lack of pressure will aid immensely.

Don’t dismiss their worry about exercise

I always found even just ten minutes on an exercise bike would help me, it was doing nothing to burn calories but I felt my body had done something. Exercise is good for us. I now exercise because of how it makes me feel and not because I feel like I should. It is so good for our mental health if done well. If someone is worrying about when and where they can exercise help them. Find an area in the house they could set a workout up in, the weather is nice so the garden can be used or ask if they want to go on a walk or run during the day. As mentioned before not getting out the house is a stress for me so don’t brush off worry about exercise. I know a lot of people who rely on a daily run to keep them feeling OK. So instead of dismissing it see if there is anything you can do to help them ease the worry.

This is just my short list, I am not sure if it will have helped.  I am happy to talk to anyone as someone who suffers from bad mental health and not as a trained professional. Just remember so many of us are feeling it, it’s a difficult time especially for those who rely on exercise and sports for their mental health.  If you need to seek more advice I would recommend contacting Beat.


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