AUSTIN, Texas — Dealing with social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic can be a nightmare if you have ever had an eating disorder or have recovered from one.
Allison Chase, the director of the Eating Recovery Center in Austin, said those with eating disorders should be aware of the triggers.
"Any time you have anxiety or mood systems are increased – the eating disorder tendency is increased, too," Chase said. "There is nothing more anxiety-provoking than what is happening right now with COVID-19 and quarantine, so you can expect you are going to be struggling with a number of different triggers. Triggers that they tend to go towards or engage in like restricting of food, binging or purging of food as well. So whatever becomes that go-to response is something we are going to see more of."
Chase said there are things you can do if someone in your own family is struggling with this.
"One of the most helpful things is to seek out professional resources and help. You know, family members and friends, we care so much – all we want to do is help them and we often don’t have the training to do that," she said.
Many of us are working from home more, which may mean those with eating disorders are right next to their kitchens. Chase said it's important to keep to a structured schedule and work with a dietician.
And even those people who’ve never had an eating disorder can run into trouble being home more.
“You just want to be more mindful – I think that’s what it comes down to – is being more mindful about what is in their best interest at the time. But, in particular, those suffering from an eating disorder, it’s important to pay attention to what you’re doing. 'Am I using food to manage my emotions?' That's the part we want to be careful about,” she said.
She said people around those with eating disorders should also be mindful of the signals that could point to a problem.
"You want to look for behavior that is out of the ordinary because what we find is there is not much that is ordinary right now," Chase said. "But when you find that you are sensing that someone’s eating behaviors have changed, when you are noticing that their bodies are not seeming as healthy, when maybe they are having behavior changes, maybe over-reactive and withdrawn or under-reactive and withdrawn -- all of those things might let someone know there may be something going on."
She advises the family to keep an eye on their behavior around food.
"Are you finding your loved ones are telling you they are not joining you for meals? They are using the, 'I’ve already eaten' excuse when you’re pretty sure they haven’t. Or are you noticing food disappear at a more rapid rate? Those are the kinds of things you want to pay attention to," Chase said. "If your loved one is one that has suffered from an eating disorder before, yet they’ve been doing quite well, you want to be very tuned in to some of those old patterns. And to know that could very well be a sign that some unhealthy behaviors are back again."
If you are having trouble with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 800-931-2237.
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