The pandemic challenged many of us as our lives were turned upside down this past year and a half. This led to eating disorder rates and mental health concerns rapidlyrising throughout the world.
You’re not alone if the eating disorder thoughts got louder as a result of quarantine, local restrictions, and the wave of emotions the pandemic brought.
Some people are excited and eager to resume face-to-face activities as restrictions are starting to be lifted. Others find it intimidating to leave behind what we’ve grown accustomed to during the pandemic.
Are you feeling re-entry anxiety as we return to normal? Re-entry anxiety refers to the fear, apprehension, and mixed feelings that arise with entering back into life without COVID restrictions.
Transitions are hard so know that what you’re experiencing is completely valid.
Let’s talk about WHY the pandemic’s restrictions created the perfect opportunity for eating disorders to thrive and then we’ll discuss HOW you can move forward in coping with re-entry anxiety as we return to normal.
Eating Disorders During the Pandemic
During the pandemic did you find yourself falling into moredisordered thoughts and behaviors surrounding food and your body?
Disordered eating tends to surface when someone feels out of control and they want to gain control over external stress or internal emotional distress.
The pandemic provided numerous pathways for eating disorders to intensify, and it also eliminated factors that protect against eating disorders:
Mask wearing has allowed you to “hide” if you’re avoidant and reluctant to social situations, or if you struggle with body image and feel protected behind the mask. This could make it challenging to give up the mask when the time comes.
Closed restaurants have given you the excuse to not face eating out and order foods that would typically be a fear for you. Cooking your own meals at home has become too much of the norm, which your eating disorder WANTS so that it can remain in control and aware of the calories and ingredients.
The social distancing and limited capacities cancelled many gatherings. You didn’t have to attend weddings, parties, or potlucks where you’d have to navigate and flexibly work through complicated food situations. Exposure work is essential to recovery, but few real-life scenarios were available.
Stay-at-home orders made it easier for you to restrict, skip meals, or eat your safe foods compared to if you were eating realistic meals, office lunches, or out to eat with friends. This may have thrown off your ability to work on hunger/fullness cues and get used to an adequate amount of food in your body.
Your extra free time alone has allowed you to overexercise or get more extreme with behaviors, like body-checking, excessive scale use, or measuring that you wouldn’t normally do in an office setting or around others. For some people, being stuck at home can feel like you’re trapped in a triggering environment, which drives you to the eating disorder to cope.
Less time with family or friends and less of a routine or schedule means a lack of rewarding activities, social support, and structure in your life. This may have led to elevating the rewards associated with food and contributed to binge eating.
Odds are you had more social media use, which tends to show diet culture related content that propels negative self-talk and comparison. Zoom or virtual videos may have also heightened your focus around your own appearance on the screen.
The pandemic was a new trial that many of us had never gone through before. If you fell back into the eating disorder, or disordered behaviors, try to forgive yourself with compassion and grace. Recovery is not perfect and you did the best you could to get through it.
How to Cope with Re-entry Anxiety as We Return to Normal
Think all the way back to pre-pandemic and reflect on the positive progress you were making in recovery. What was working? How would it feel to be back in a place where you’re overcoming the eating disorder?
Here are tips and strategies for how to support yourself or a loved one who is dealing with re-entry anxiety as we return to normal.
Order take-out food from a restaurant and practice eating food that you didn’t cook yourself. Ease into restaurant food by enjoying it in the comfort of your own home.
Invite a small group of friends or relatives over for a meal that you’re comfortable with so that you can practice socialized eating.
Pack your lunch now while you’re still working from home so that you can get used to the task again. This way, when you return to work, you’re aware of what you need and it’s not overwhelming to pack a full day’s worth of meals.
Wear your work clothes around the house so that you become familiar with clothes that may be harder to wear, like form fitting dress pants, skirts, or belts. This will help you desensitize negative body image issues with certain clothes.
Create a schedulefor your day to welcome structure back including regular meals and snacks, getting fresh air outside, joyful movement, prioritizing consistent sleep patterns, and a self-care activity like journaling or reading a book.
Start introducing more social connections with people if you feel comfortable. Go for a walk in the park with a friend or sit outside chatting over coffee.
Set boundaries around social media. Consider taking a pause or setting your phone to only allow limited time on certain apps. If you’re on social media, stick to an online community promoting body positivity and supporting each other; come say hi to @nutritioncounselingcenter on Instagram!
Communicate your needs and go at your own pace. Share with your close friends and loved ones as well as your treatment team what’s concerning you and how they can help you move forward. Make gradual changes that add up so that you can practice re-entering into society as we emerge from the pandemic.
The pandemic required resilience in the wake of fear, uncertainty, and obstacles. Be proud of yourself for getting through this tough time, no matter what it looked like. Now, use that same resilience, shifting your energy, to propel you back into the world of recovery. You can do this!
You Don’t Have to Do Life After the Pandemic Alone!
The dietitians at Nutrition Counseling Center are here to walk alongside you if you’re experiencing re-entry anxiety as we return to normal. We offer individual and group services, both in-person or virtually. Let’s get in touch and do this together!