Managing An Eating Disorder During Lockdown
We are extremely grateful to Oli for opening up about her own experience with Anorexia Nervosa and for sharing her strategies for managing an eating disorder during this difficult time. If you are affected by anything touched on within this article, follow the links to our various support services or click on the blue logo icon at the bottom right of the screen to start using Cybersmile Assistant, our smart AI support assistant.
As we step into the 2nd official month of ‘Lockdown’ I think it’s fair to say this unprecedented circumstance hasn’t gotten any easier for any of us. And, if I’m being completely honest with you, I have personally found self-isolation to get a bit more difficult over the last few days. I miss my friends, I miss going out for lovely dinners and… I even miss getting up at 5:30 am for work! With an air of uncertainty around when life will return to some sort of ‘normal’, it’s been imperative for my mental health that I prioritise self-care.
Self-isolation is difficult for everyone! Particularly, those already struggling with their mental health. As someone who has recovered from Anorexia Nervosa, I can empathise with the difficulties faced especially at the moment by those still in the depths of eating disorder recovery; and, like myself, those who have gone through recovery.
I am a Registered Nutritionist and personal trainer and typically take to Instagram (@wellwitholi) to share knowledge on both physical and mental wellbeing. But today, The Cybersmile Foundation have very kindly allowed me space on their platform to share the top tips I’m using at the moment to manage disordered eating and bad body image thoughts when they come. Just to note, although I believe this advice could be useful for most, on a public platform I can only speak on my experience with Anorexia Nervosa and what has helped me. So just use this as a cherry tree, and just pick the bits that will best help you.
There’s been a misconception floating around that because we are not currently as mobile as we’d usually be, we need to “restrict” the calories we are consuming. I’ve even had moments of doubt myself when this negative thought has popped into my head. But I want to encourage you, this is unequivocally not true. Something vital to remember is that food is our body’s fuel. Whether we have a busy day commuting to-and-from work or are working from the comfort of our living room – we need fuel. One way to look at it is like a phone battery. Whether you are carrying your phone around all day outside of the house or spending the day inside, you still need to charge your phone for it to work properly and stay alive. And the same principle applies to you.
If you are like me and don’t have a strict structure to your day, it can be quite easy for disordered thinking to allow you to skip meals. Something that has helped me combat this is setting alarm reminders for breakfast, lunch and dinner (you could also add in snack and rehydration breaks here too, but I’ve been managing those well!). This way, whatever I’m doing, if I haven’t already listened to hunger cues and had that meal, it’s like a gentle nudge from myself to myself to honour my body and cook the corresponding meal. I have found this to be particularly encouraging to prevent any restrictive eating patterns that I could potentially continue after lockdown.
To add, although supermarkets are experiencing some stock restrictions, buying foods I love has helped encourage me to honour eating on days it’s been a bit more difficult. (And of course – if you know me personally, everything peanut butter related has been on the top of that list!).
*Before reading this section, it’s especially important that for those still going through recovery that you take/ask for medical advice before starting any exercise.*
The main points I want to get across here are: balance and doing what feels good… for you! If you’re at a stage in your journey where you have a healthy relationship with exercise, it can be an amazing medium to help manage mental health. There’s lots of great research that helps show how exercise can improve mood, as well as being important for physical health too. However, it’s okay if your exercise regimen looks a little different to usual during lockdown! I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that my energy levels have dipped a bit since being indoors. I equate this to it being such a mentally stimulating time. I feel like I have a constant hum in the back of my mind thinking about everything going on, that at times I’ve felt a bit drained. So, instead of putting extra stress on my body punishing myself with intense workouts, I’m just really honest with myself and question: is this is something I want to do or something I am forcing myself to do.
Some days exercise could look like utilising the 1-hour of outdoor exercise we have in the UK to take a long walk in nature (obviously, sticking to social distancing rules and avoiding busier areas). Some days where I feel a bit anxious this could look like a peaceful yoga flow and on other days where I feel stressed with lots of energy, I might want to sweat it all out with an online HIIT class. The one thing I am sticking to, however, is the complete removal of any expectations of myself. I refuse to compare myself how other people are exercising because they are doing what’s best for them and I must do what’s best for me. By doing this, it helps ensure that whatever form of exercise I’ve chosen to do for that day, I will step into a better mindset than when I started.
I typically commute through central London every day for work, teach exercise classes and am a bit of a social butterfly. So, you could say my life is usually a lot more active than lockdown life – you can probably relate! With this considered, a reality I’ve had to comfort myself through is that I will most likely experience some changes in my body that I might not necessarily desire. However, this is normal, and this is ok.
I want to share a quote one of my closest friends said to me, and it’s really helped me value my body, especially during this period. She said: “…if the worst thing to come out of lockdown is that I’ve gained a bit of weight, I will count that as a blessing”. And that has stuck with me. Even if I see some changes in my body, I am in complete gratitude that it has kept me well through a global pandemic… literally, incredible!
I’m sure you are no stranger to the notion that social media can be both a blessing and a curse. Whilst we are inside and have more time to be scrolling through our socials, it’s very easy to become exposed to a heightened experience of both of those elements. Now more than ever, I have been flooded with posts of people running for miles, starting new business ventures and becoming a pro yogi. Whilst these are all brilliant achievements, (and I definitely am not saying you can’t do any of these things if that’s what feels best for you!), I can’t help but feel like with some of the productivity posts I’ve seen there has been an accompanying sense of pressure. I have even seen posts where people have directly shamed others for not being as ‘productive’ as them. I want to encourage you this is a global health pandemic, not a productivity contest. And with that being said, it’s important to remember that productivity looks different for everyone. You might consider completing your to-list by lunchtime productive, whilst your friend might consider getting through the next chapter of their book productive. And that’s totally fine! There is no right or wrong answer to managing our time at the moment. I want you to remember that doing what’s best for your mental health should be at the forefront of your choices.
Almost all social media platforms have an option to unfollow/mute/delete/block pages that no longer serve you. These features have been amazing in helping me navigate the internet and remind me that I have control over what I choose to see online. I make sure to only follow accounts that help me feel encouraged, positive, inspired or that I find relatable.
I also find it really useful to set boundaries with the time spent on my phone/laptop. For example, when I wake up before I even scroll through my socials, I like to jump in the shower playing one of my favourite uplifting playlists. This sets the tone for my morning so that when I do look online, if there’s any negative news or I see something potentially triggering, I’m already in a more positive frame of mind to deal with information I’m seeing, (compared to if I was to immediately scroll through my socials as soon as I opened my eyes). Doing this also prevents me from spending half the day in bed on my phone which I find isn’t helpful for my mental health.
Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not going to pretend like this happens perfectly every morning, sometimes the temptation to lie in a scroll is just too much!
Lastly, I want to touch on therapy. I can understand that if you are going through therapy, this might look a little different or even non-existent during lockdown. So, I want to share some tips I’ve learnt along the way that help me process my thoughts. Hopefully, some of these are new to you and you can put them to use!
- Voice journaling – This has been a game-changer. My career requires a lot of paperwork, so for me, sitting down at the end of the day to write even more… voluntarily, just doesn’t work. Sometimes, I also feel like I think too fast to keep up with the pen so I can’t articulate what I’m thinking properly. Instead, I switch on voice notes on my phone and just get chatting away. Recording it allows me to feel like I’m speaking everything through to someone else, whilst also allowing me the opportunity to listen back and challenge what I was feeling.
- Podcasts – Whenever I’m feeling a bit less mentally strong, listening to an empowering podcast is like the little pep talk I need but can’t muster up myself. There’s a plethora of amazing motivational speakers and qualified therapists who share free information online. I am always careful of where I source the podcasts to avoid listening to anything that could actually be harmful instead. However, there have been countless occasions where I’ve been having a bit of a bad day, turn on a podcast and experience a complete improvement in mood. These are also great to listen to on lunch breaks if you are working from home and want some time away from looking at a screen.
- Create – This one might not be for everyone, and that’s ok! But for those of you who have thought about creating content online, now might be an amazing opportunity for you to do so! As I mentioned at the start, I create social media posts sharing tips like these, fitness videos and recipe ideas. During the lockdown, I’ve been able to pour so much more energy into content creating, which has been incredible for filling up my days! The whole process of shooting videos/photos, editing and uploading is so rewarding, but most importantly – fun! It gives me an outlet to channel my energy, rather than spending the day lost in my thoughts. Even if sharing content online isn’t for you, there are so many mediums you could choose from. These could include: creating music, painting, drawing, baking, choreographing dance routines etc. Allow yourself the opportunity to truly tap into what makes you happy… you deserve it!
I really hope these tips have inspired you. Please remember, this period is only temporary – lockdown will end, and better times are coming! A simple quote that I love to remember is “and still, I rise” – Maya Angelou. This is such a beautiful reminder that although we don’t have too much control over what is going on around us during this pandemic, we do have control over how we respond. You are strong, important, valued and most importantly, you’ve got this.
We want to say a huge thank you to Oli for contributing this article! If you are affected by anything touched on within this article, we can help you. Visit our Help Center or click on the blue logo icon at the bottom right of the screen to open Cybersmile Assistant, our smart AI support assistant. To learn more about Cybersmile and our work, please explore the following recommendations:
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