Social Isolation and the Risk of Eating Disorders

By Jessica Carter

Our lives have changed drastically over the past several months. Many women have gone from the hustle and bustle of daily living to social isolation, distancing ourselves from friends and family. For those with an eating disorder, COVID–19 has created the perfect storm. The new normal has proven to interrupt healthy eating patterns and increase the prevalence of eating disorders. A study by the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that 62% of those surveyed with Anorexia reported an increase in restriction. Similarly, those suffering from Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder report increases in binging episodes and urges to binge. Experts have attributed these increases to multiple reasons, including the sudden lack of structure, a triggering environment, and more importantly social isolation. Unfortunately, Eating Disorders thrive in this new environment.   

Challenges During Social isolation

The constant loneliness has caused a breakdown of routine, as well as fractured support systems that are a source of comfort. For those suffering from an eating disorder, the increased isolation has resulted in countless hours ruminating on food and body image often leading to increased Eating Disorder thoughts and behaviors. Depression and anxiety have also increased, which is also correlated with increased eating disorder behaviors, as well. Research shows that over the past several months, over one-third of the people in the United States have shown symptoms of anxiety and depression, both of which often co-occur with the incidence of Eating Disorders.

In addition to feelings of loneliness and increased anxiety, women with eating disorders may also struggle with the increased stockpile of food or the lack of “safe foods” that are no longer readily accessible. This, combined with limited access to physical activities, can prove to be harmful triggers for Eating Disorders.

For a person with either a current or emerging eating disorder, the lack of control they are feeling during social isolation may manifest itself through control of what they eat or do not eat. The isolation provides an avenue to hide disordered thoughts and behaviors. Unfortunately, the issues of social isolation are not only confined to home, but rather, have begun occurring in colleges and universities. It has been reported that some colleges and universities have implemented quarantined residential halls and have shut down dining halls. Thus, sending students to eat meals alone in their rooms. Although best practice for stopping the spread of COVID-19, these practices are making it less challenging to engage in disordered eating thoughts and behaviors.

Managing Recovery from an Eating Disorder during Social Isolation

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorder (ANAD), the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted daily living for people across the globe. Moreover, those suffering from an eating disorder, have been greatly impacted by the increase in social isolation.

Coping with an eating disorder can be difficult during these trying times, but there are some strategies that can help:

  • Radical acceptance that desirable food may be less accessible and less varied; therefore, validating the struggle with disordered eating thoughts and behaviors.
  • Engaging in a virtual peer support group. These groups can help validate your current challenges and also give you a place to consult with Eating Disorder experts and peers who may also be struggling similarly.
  • Relieve anxiety by indulging in relaxing activities like yoga, breathing exercises, art, music, or anything that relaxes the mind.
  • Be flexible around your food choices; choose foods you enjoy.
  • Prioritize your recovery with increased passion and determination. Your health is worth it.

Offering Hope and Healing

At Magnolia Creek, we understand the complexity of eating disorders. For this reason, we provide individualized evidence-based treatment for women in a healing environment. Located on a 36-acre wooded campus, equipped with a pond and walking trails, Magnolia Creek provides the perfect space for overall healing and transformation. We offer a collaborative and strengths-based approach to care, utilizing specialized therapies help each woman deeply explore the contributing factors related to their eating disorder. Our holistic program addresses the medical, nutritional, psychological, spiritual, social-emotional, and behavioral needs of our clients so they can fully, renew, restore, and recover from Eating Disorders. Our goal is to provide a customized treatment plan that emphasizes self-acceptance, validation, and personal empowerment, ultimately guiding women to sustained recovery.

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