Navigating the COVID-19 Pandemic While in Eating Disorder Recovery 

Most Mondays I head to the grocery store after work for my weekly shopping. Today was another one of my grocery shopping “Mondays.” However, things have changed. Two months ago, I was standing in the store and for the first time, the person behind me stood six feet from me. It was a very strange feeling. At first, I thought maybe there was something wrong with me. Did I smell? Did something in my appearance offend them?

Sometimes it is easy to think the cause of the behavior of someone else is a result of something wrong with me. Of course, I realized that the person behind me was practicing the social distancing we were encouraged to use as we go to the store.

A month later, there was another new experience. As I went grocery shopping, everyone was required to wear a mask. So this time, it was another strange feeling as I walked into a store and everyone had half of their faces covered. One of the things that struck me as odd, was my inability to smile at someone else. How easily I took for granted the use of my smile. Now, as I walked passed people, or said excuse me, I felt it was more difficult to convey my friendliness.

Move forward to today. As I walked through the store, everyone was wearing a mask. Everyone was doing what they could to stay six feet away. One lady who passed me in the isle said, “Excuse me, I’ll be quick” and politely moved past me. I could hear her friendliness in her voice as she said it. It was not a timid, afraid comment, but a comfortable way of navigating our now somewhat normal surroundings and expectations.

I noticed how the things that had caused me to feel unsure, anxious, and afraid were now a normal part of my grocery store outing. I was able to nod my head and smile with my eyes as I talked to people and went through the checkout line, and I did not hesitate to stand my six feet of distance in line or have someone stand six feet behind me. I noticed today how easily I put on my mask and walked through the store.

When all this started, it was scary to go to the store. I preferred to stay home and when I went to the store, I had moments where I walked in and out very quickly. I still went because I needed to live, survive and provide food and other supplies for myself and others. I made the choice to feel those uncomfortable emotions and fear and take the next step forward.

Three things come to mind as I think about my experiences in the store these last couple months and how it may relate to the journey of eating disorder recovery. The first is how we move from feeling anxious, worried, and fearful when things change to that change becoming normalized.
When starting on the journey toward recovery, the change or thought of changing becomes overwhelming and impossible like that uncomfortable feeling of something new in our environment. Whether it be a mask or food consumed without the use of a compensating behavior, that change makes us uncomfortable. Our eating disorder part screams that this change will not allow life and cause a loss of control. Yet, it is this change that is necessary for life and freedom.

Food and energy is what our bodies need to live and survive and thrive. As we begin to make these steps, feelings will be there. Thoughts will be there, and yet making that choice to eat adequately and move toward balance leads to life.

Our values for life and relationships move us toward the ability to sit with the uncomfortable feelings as we choose to work in recovery.

The second is our resilience as humans to adapt to our environment and circumstances. Even our bodies are resilient to some extent to what we put them through. Our bodies, in a sense, fight for us by compensating for the damage done by ED behaviors.

As a society we adapt to our environment to protect our well-being, in the same way our bodies adapt to what is being done to them to survive. However, as amazing as our bodies are at doing this, they can only do it for so long without long-term consequences occurring.

The masks in the stores are meant to protect us and others from the spread of this virus. Our need to adapt and utilize this is saving lives. With EDs, the food and abstaining from other behaviors is the way to protect our bodies and even thank them for protecting us and fighting for life for us. Because of this we can have an appreciation for our bodies and recognize the need to take care of our bodies by feeding them.

Finally, it brings to mind the increased difficulty navigating recovery during this time. As meal plans are made, there is often not the exact food or brands that we prefer or our ED is requiring of us. This may actually help us learn how to practice flexibility in order to feed our bodies.

I was in a store where fresh chicken breasts were not available for making fajitas. Therefore I chose to use steak instead. While my fajita preference is chicken, steak will still give me a nourishing and enjoyable meal.

As we navigate items that may be low in stock, I encourage awareness of the nourishment that many foods provide. It may mean having canned foods verses fresh, or some other processed foods in our plan.

Remember that no one food is bad and all foods can fit. This gives us the ability to nourish our body and move toward living life. Also, be aware of those urges to engage in the eating disorder as a way to control what is happening around us. There has been an increase in advertisements of restricting certain foods or adding foods to promote immune systems. Our body is capable of doing what it needs to do when we practice balance, variety, and moderation in our eating plan.

As humans, we are capable of so much and are made to live! Whether it be adapting to a new environment around us, beginning or continuing to nourish our bodies and minds with all foods, moving through the uncomfortable emotions of change and recovery, and/or taking another step forward in recovery. We are able to move toward life and thrive, not just survive.

*The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders and not intended as endorsement by iaedp Foundation, Inc. or its Board of Directors.*

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