Eating Disorders Recovery While Social Distancing

With contributions by Brooke Lundy, LMSW.

What do you do first when you wake up in the morning? What about right before bed? Is it the same each day?

Life is full of routines. We go to work, we cook, we clean, we spend time with friends and family. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. The structure of our day-to-day is an integral part of our existence. And, it plays an essential role in eating disorder recovery by:

  • maintaining patterns known to reduce the risk of relapse, such as eating three meals and snacks daily
  • reducing anxiety or discomfort that can come with uncertainty
  • providing productive ways to channel energy
  • ensuring continued connection in relationships, and
  • putting in place routines to return to in the face of a setback

COVID-19 and Establishing a Schedule for Continued Recovery

As the COVID-19 public health crisis unfolds, we have entered an era of working-from-home, social distancing, and self-quarantine. In this context, many people across the county (and, in fact, the globe!) may be challenged either by extra, unscheduled time, or a chaotic, hard-to-structure home environment. For those with an eating disorder, this might feel like a recovery hurdle – with extra time to think (or not think) about eating, exercise, and body image.

Here are five tips for navigating recovery while practicing social distancing:

  1. Schedule your day. Create a loose schedule for the day, taking care not to over-schedule, be overly rigid, or obsess over every minute. Instead, allow some flexibility by creating a few goals and/or tasks to accomplish each day.
  2. Set the tone from the start with a morning routine. Set an alarm in the morning to wake up at a reasonable hour. Open the blinds and soak in the sun. If you are able to, step outside for some fresh air and stretch your legs. Shower and dress for the day as you normally would. If, for you, it’s tempting to sleep the day away, try moving your alarm clock to the far side of your bedroom. Or, consider making a plan to connect with someone in the morning so that you have a commitment to encourage you to get your day started.
  3. Maintain relationships. Social distancing doesn’t mean you can’t keep up social contact. Make an effort to stay connected with someone, especially if you live alone. Plan a FaceTime call or send a Zoom invite to a friend or family member – even if it is just to say hi. You can also use technology to connect in creative ways – to watch a movie together or play a game.
  4. Have a mealtime game plan. Setting a daily eating schedule can be a useful tool in helping to maintain non eating-disordered patterns. Picking rough timeframes for meals and snacks will support balanced choices and healthy behaviors. Make your eating times a priority. If you tend to skip or rush through meals, allow yourself enough time and use it; if you tend to delay or dawdle over meals, set a reasonable goal for when you’ll finish eating. Either way, it may be especially helpful to include others during meals. If you live alone, try calling a friend and have a breakfast, lunch, or dinner date. Again, the schedule can be somewhat flexible, but it’s important that you have a sense of times to eat and times not to eat. If you experience urges to binge eat or eat in response to emotion, an activity plan that keeps you out of the kitchen when not eating or prepping meals will be key.
  5. Meditate. In addition to eating disorder recovery, you may be experiencing other worries or stresses right now related to the pandemic. Create time to take a step back and practice mindfulness.

What Exactly is the Ideal Schedule?

There is no perfect schedule! A good schedule is one that works for YOU. Here is a sample for inspiration:

Morning: Wake up. Meditate. Have breakfast between 8am-9am. If you are in school or working from home, spend a few hours doing work. Give yourself frequent breaks, and use the time to have a snack, call a friend, or catch up on a favorite podcast.

Afternoon: Do some more work or engage in an activity to stimulate your mind. Have lunch between 12-1pm. Don’t be afraid to take another break at some point to walk around outside, do some gentle stretching, or simply sit and listen to some music in your backyard or on your balcony. Plan to have a snack between 3-4pm.

Evening: Cook a meal with roommates/family or FaceTime a friend for a dinner date. Eat dinner between 6pm-7pm. Watch a movie, get involved in a creative project, journal – whatever counts as your best self-care practice. Between 8:30pm-9:30pm, have an evening snack. If nighttime overeating is a risk for you, pre-portion the amount you plan to eat and pair an activity with your snack that will keep you from returning to the kitchen. If restriction is a risk for you, ask someone to keep you company, in real-life or virtually.

Pleasurable Activities to Spice Up Your Day

There are many ways to make use of all this time inside. Here are a few suggestions, though the list is clearly is not exhaustive:

  • Pick up a new hobby: learn to knit, paint, or even learn a new language.
  • Consider trying a free, online continuing education class.
  • Have a virtual game night using apps, like Heads Up and Fibbage, or an old-fashioned puzzle, or an in-person boardgame or card game.
  • Read a book — an old favorite, a new best-seller, or one of those books on your shelf that you’ve been meaning to pick up – or check out a podcast (Here’s a list of psychology podcasts, for starters).
  • Check out Netflix Party to make your streaming social.
  • Take a virtual museum tour. Thanks to Google Arts and Culture, you can explore museums around the globe, from the British Museum and the Musée d’Orsay to the Guggenheim Museum.

During this exceptional time, remember that we are “alone, together,” and that distanced need not mean isolated.

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  1. […] Maintaining Social Contact: reaching out to friends, family, and colleagues for support in times of stress is critical. While our casual daily interactions with friends have been significantly reduced due to COVID, connecting virtually with friends and family has become easier than ever with video platforms. Try scheduling a weekly get-together with friends at the end of the work week to check in and have some shared wind-down time. […]

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