Does your eating disorder seem amplified during lockdown?

Often, we talk about the eating disorder having a “voice”. By that we mean the critical thoughts that may pop in and out of your head throughout the day (or around food/mealtimes) that really test your recovery and resilience.

For many, part of the recovery journey involves identifying that voice; noticing when those thoughts arise (this can be quite hard to do, especially in the beginning) and clocking if and when there’s a pattern in the timing or volume of that voice.

Discovering a pattern in these thoughts and feelings (the “voice” of the ED) can indicate that we are in a triggering situation or experiencing something that puts us in a state of uncomfortably high alert. When we notice a pattern in those experiences and emotional responses, we can take steps to gently undo that pattern with the help of specialists, gentle interventions and integrating healthy coping mechanisms.

Alongside this, it’s important to notice how we react and respond to this eating disorder voice. For some, it can be so strong that it’s almost impossible to override (if that’s your experience right now, that’s ok – you’re doing your best). For others, the eating disorder voice can seem so intrusive that it’s tempting to dismiss it entirely in an attempt to not “engage in conversation” – i.e. by ignoring the voice we’re avoiding the exhausting back-and-forth between the voice of the eating disorder and the voice of our recovery-focused selves.

Whilst we don’t necessarily want to give the eating disorder voice any more air time, when we take a moment to notice what it’s telling us so, we can develop a kind, compassionate and recovery-focused voice to respond to it. This, in a way, makes the interaction more grounded and accepting; we’re not running away and we’re not feeling overpowered. We’re simply noticing. We’re being curious, without judgement.

Your recovery during lockdown

Lockdown has indeed put a spanner in the works for many of us in recovery. It may be that you had a solid routine and healthy coping mechanisms to deal with this eating disorder voice which have had to pause entirely due to social distancing. We won’t go into it here, but this has been an incredibly hard adjustment for those in recovery.

Without these usual routines and coping mechanisms the eating disorder voice can seem amplified. Speaking to our Senior Dietitian, Paula Tait, she said:

“For people with disordered eating and eating disorders, Lockdown is bringing additional challenges. Media pressure to transform yourself by eating a healthier diet, exercising more and losing weight can be difficult to avoid. For some, these messages can amplify the internal dialogue and make the struggle with poor body image and a difficult relationships with food even harder.”

You, like us, may have noticed a trend that’s appeared, particularly on social media, that focuses on three main things: diet, exercise and being “productive”. All of these are things that people suffering with eating disorders deal with on a daily, often minute-by-minute basis – regardless of a pandemic. The difference is that now it’s very hard to escape from it.

Paula stats that at Orri:

“We provide the space and time to challenge some of these difficult areas and take a more objective view.”

By taking an objective view of the situation we allow ourselves to take a step back from all of the noise to consider our response. As we said further up in this post, the important thing is how we react and respond to the eating disorder voice, especially when it’s amplified.

Be kind.

We’ve also got to be kind to ourselves. If things are really tough right now, it doesn’t mean that you are failing, it simply means you’re being really, really challenged right now (and if you’re reading this blog post it’s highly likely you’re searching for ways to keep on track, which is awesome!). Recovery is a journey with different chapters, just as this pandemic will be a journey with different chapters.

Let’s recognise the incredible work you’ve already done – a challenging time doesn’t undo any of that work! Also, as humans, we’re built to adapt. This is merely another opportunity to show our dedication to our recovery and work with ourselves (and our treatment teams!) to make this as gentle and kind as possible.

You can do this.

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