Challenges to Eating Disorder Recovery Posed by the Second Wave of COVID-19

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As seemingly everyone in the world knows, everything changed in February of 2020. The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus has caused widespread fear and worry, the closing of millions of businesses and institutions, loss of employment, and most tragically, over 100,000 deaths in the United States alone. In the months since the first cases were reported, many states have started to open up again.

And now we are seeing a second spike after the initial crisis was thought to have passed.

Just as with the first spike in coronavirus cases, the public’s behavior has to be changed to prevent as much as possible the spread of the airborne virus. While this inconveniences virtually everyone in their daily, personal, and professional lives, the fear of transmitting or contracting the virus poses a special challenge to people who have completed a stint in a residential or outpatient eating disorder treatment center and are attempting to return to normalcy.

What Social Distancing Means to Recovered Individuals

The primary aspect of responding to coronavirus daily is the practice of social distancing, both in terms of keeps space between you and the next person in line, but also the ways we incorporate food and exercise in our lives. Virtually every form of eating disorder, from anorexia nervosa to ARFID, centers around a troubled relationship with food and, and often includes disordered exercise behaviors as well. The time a person spends in eating disorder treatment, after stabilizing the initial physical and mental health risks, normally revolved around teaching lessons on healthier eating and exercise habits upon the patient’s return to “daily life.” So what happens when “daily life” is turned on its head by a global pandemic?

  • Grocery Shopping and Meal Planning Are Made More Complicated

Many of the final lessons during a stay at a residential eating disorder recovery program center around giving the recovered patient the tools to control their own eating schedule and meal types. This normally includes extensive meal planning and grocery store trips, which familiarize the recovered individual with being around food again and normalize a regular, healthy eating schedule. The challenge posed by COVID-19’s recommended response plan suggests that people shop less frequently than they had in the past, visiting the grocery store no more than once a week to prevent the spread of the disease. This requires meal planning to be done longer in advance. Meal planners should also be prepared that certain foods and supplements may be in lower supply than they had been in the past.  Some eating disorder centers are providing specialized meal plan lessons that can counteract these shortages and less-frequent shopping.

  • Restaurants and Bars Are Still Iffy

Eating and drinking in company are important social bonding activities and have been since the dawn of time. Many eating disorder treatment programs feature restaurant visits to help their charges feel more comfortable eating in public and with company. For people with anorexia nervosa, who must become comfortable eating in public, or bulimia nervosa, who often self-purge following meals, eating at a restaurant is an essential part of embracing a fully recovered life. People with eating disorders should find restaurants that are in line with the current CDC and local regulations surrounding COVID-19 prevention.

  • Gyms and Pools May be Closed or Restricted

Excessive exercise is a common symptom of restrictive and purging-related eating disorders. While mindful movement classes at eating disorder treatment centers can replace punishing exercise regimes with lower-impact fitness methods like yoga and tai chi, it may be difficult for recovered individuals to use a gym or pool to maintain a healthy exercise routine, since the virus is spread through deep breathing, coughing, and contact with shared surfaces. For a recovered person, it’s essential to find less-crowded avenues for exercise.

Don’t Let COVID-19 Take Away Your Recovery

As the second wave of the crisis continues, we all have to make changes in our lives to top the spread. And although these changes might be difficult for people who’ve recovered from an eating disorder, they’re not insurmountable. There are always resources for graduates from an eating disorder program, from aftercare programs to support groups. Don’t lose hope – maintaining recovery is possible, even in a coronavirus-dominated world.