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6 Ways the Corona Virus/Quarantine Interacts with an Eating Disorder

The current crisis related to corona virus has materially altered the way we live life. It is an enormous source of stress and for those who may be prone to developing an eating disorder.

The current crisis related to corona virus has materially altered the way we live life.  It is an enormous source of stress and for those who may be prone to developing an eating disorder, or who already have an eating disorder underway, there may be specific ways that this situation makes things more difficult.

  1. The hysteria over “getting enough food” can make people hoard foods that they may be emotionally attached to.  People with eating disorders often have foods that they feel more “safe” eating and this can result in an imbalance in their diet.  The hoarding of these safe foods may result in further malnutrition and rigidity about eating.  For those who binge, it may result in them having large amounts of food in the house while also having much less to do so the risk of bingeing may increase.  For others, the inability to get the foods that they feel more comfortable with could result in restricting because of the rigidity that comes with their eating disorder.
  2. The fear of contamination can create obstacles to people eating enough.  With all the talk about washing and cleaning everything, those who have any OCD tendencies may develop even more fears about foods being unsafe because they fear contracting the virus. 
  3. Many people find that when they are under stress they either eat less or eat more.  If you already are struggling with a disordered relationship with food, this could cause you to cycle more intensely with restricting and bingeing.
  4. The social isolation is especially challenging for teenagers, who are at a phase of development where they are very concerned with fitting in and being accepted by their peers.  The feeling of loss of control over one’s social life could result in wanting to be more “in control” of one’s food intake.  Conversely, in order to soothe the painful feelings of loneliness, one may overeat or binge to escape uncomfortable emotions.
  5. Kids who may have gotten away with disordered eating in the past because their parents are not home for parts of the day suddenly find themselves eating all meals around their families.  This could play out in different ways.  In one case, the family may create more structure and accountability and stop any disordered tendencies from developing further.  On the other hand, it may open parents’ eyes to what has been going on and make them more aware that their child has developed an eating disorder.
  6. If you are a parent who struggles with negative body image or disordered eating, remember that your children are watching you.  Often parents believe that they somehow hide their disordered eating from their children but this is rarely the case.  With the increase in together time, your children are now getting a much larger dose of your disordered behaviors with food so it may be time to address these issues so that your children don’t learn this behavior. 

So what do you do if you discover that your child or loved one is exhibiting signs of an eating disorder?  You call an eating disorder specialist who has experience delivering care remotely.  If you are able to participate in the treatment of your loved one, Family Based Treatment may be quite effective during this time.  It has the added benefit of keeping your loved one out of a treatment center, which may have additional appeal right now.

So let’s review signs and symptoms of an eating disorder

  • Rapid change in weight, up or down
  • Refusal to join the family at meals
  • Having “special foods” that are not shared with anyone else
  • Requiring that a separate meal is made that is different than what the rest of the family is eating
  • Recent change in diet that has become more and more extreme
  • Clothing looking very baggy
  • Hiding food in the bedroom
  • Taking an unusual amount of time to get dressed
  • Has “melt downs” about weight or appearance
  • Swelling or puffiness around the lower jaw
  • Going into the bathroom right after eating.  Taking extra long showers.
  • New obsessive interest in cooking or controlling the way food is prepared.

Don’t’ despair if you discover an eating disorder in your family at this time. Help is available and you do not have to go through this alone. Get eating disorder treatment in Miami and beyond.

I’m Dr. Amy Boyers, a Clinical Psychologist who specializes in eating disorder treatment in Miami and across the state of Florida (all types including anorexia treatment, bulimia treatment, and binge eating treatment) and other long-term conditions, including addictions, bipolar, and OCD. I offer personalized and sophisticated eating disorder treatment services, individual and family psychotherapy, family member support and education, in-home meal support, cognitive behavioral therapy, anxiety treatment, depression treatment, and much more.

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