Americans with extroverted personalities are often quite vocal about their struggles to shelter in place. In contrast, those with mental health issues are often mum about their difficulties. Does their silence mean they’re coping well? Not necessarily. If truth be told, people with mental health issues, especially those who are suffering from eating disorders, tend to get worse when they isolate themselves.
Eating Disorders: The Basics
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines eating disorders as an illness that causes severe disturbances in a person’s eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. Patients who undergo eating disorder treatments from different parts of the world are often characteristically preoccupied with food. They also typically struggle with weight management and poor body image, where several factors affect their perception.
The Problem with Isolation
As we know, combatting the pandemic demands physically distancing ourselves from the people around us. For people with eating disorders, this requires doubling their efforts to fight their triggers. They have become idle, restless, and anxious because of the virus. Yet the more time they spend in isolation, the easier it gets for their unhealthy eating habits to resurface.
Aside from physical isolation, having a “scarcity mentality” could also affect the recovery of a person with eating disorders. When they see half-empty grocery shelves, they panic and buy more food than they need. With more access to food and a lot of time to kill, they could easily succumb to their unhealthy eating habits.
Finally, given that the varieties of food are limited to either frozen and processed goods and stockpiles of pasta, bread, and rice, people with eating disorders may find it easier to cheat on their diet, potentially triggering binge eating.
How Can Patients Cope?
People with eating disorders need to know that they have a reliable support system in place. To support them further during this chaotic time, we could encourage them to follow healthy lifestyle habits and bring back some semblance of normalcy in their lives.
- To fight eating disorders that are triggered by anxiety, getting enough sleep, and following a regular exercise routine should help. Yoga and meditation are also found to be helpful.
- To keep patients’ minds off food, they need to stay busy. They can do fun and enjoyable activities, such as music and arts and crafts. They can also touch base with family and friends through social media and various instant messaging platforms.
- To somehow curb or minimize cravings, drinking plenty of water and snacking on healthy food is a reliable fix.
Is recovery possible?
While eating disorders may seem daunting at first, the good news is that patients can still recover from it. A study from the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry claims that nearly two-thirds of women with eating disorders did recover. However, recovery takes time, hard work, and commitment.
Stages of recovery
An eating disorder is not an impossible battle. Nevertheless, the process is long, tedious, and sometimes painful. Moreover, it requires the help of qualified professionals who know their way around mental health issues and eating disorders as well as the support of the patients’ loved ones as they go through the five stages in the recovery process, as enumerated by the National Eating Disorders Org (NEDA):
- Pre-contemplation stage. It is the initial stage where the patient is still in denial of his or her situation. The inability to accept the situation at face value is usually brought by a lack of understanding of the illness.
- Contemplation stage. It is the stage where the patient has begun to acknowledge that a problem exists and needs to be fixed.
- Preparation stage. It is the stage where the patient is looking out for concrete solutions and long-term plans to combat their eating disorders.
- Action stage. It is the stage where the patient is actively seeking treatment.
- Maintenance stage. It is the stage where the patient has found a treatment option that works best for them and has expressed their desire to maintain the program to veer away from a possible relapse.
Statistics compiled by the NEDA show that 28.4% of people with current binge eating disorders are receiving treatment for their illness. Let’s help raise this number. If you know someone suffering from this disorder, encourage them to seek the help of dedicated professionals who understand eating disorders and how they should be managed. There is a steady increase in intervention programs and treatment options for eating disorders to date. Most of these have significantly helped patients improve their quality of life.