Disordered eating and the end of lockdown

You’ve been dreaming about the end of lockdown for days, thinking excitedly about the loved ones you’ll hug and the places you’ll go. But now the reality of this is peeping over the horizon, you’re feeling nervous.

This last year has taken a toll on your mental well-being and not to mention your relationship with food. You feel that your eating has become increasingly disordered and your body image feels perilous. 

You’re fearful of restaurants opening up and being social and navigating menus again. You’re particularly worried about others judging your body.

Part of you wants just a bit longer in lockdown, to sort out your eating and to return to the world, a confident and brighter you.

So how to cope with this long anticipated but gut-wrenching change.

1. Value the lockdown learning

This has been an extraordinarily challenging year, with the loss of face-to-face connections, mood boosting hobbies, exciting adventures and more. It is no surprise if your mental well-being has suffered.

When we are anxious, bored or lonely, we often default to unhelpful coping strategies to get through. Rather than berate yourself, instead offer yourself kindness and understanding. You would show compassion for a friend in your situation, which you equally deserve. And take a step back to reflect and learn from this tumultuous year.

For many people, some eating issues were present before the world was turned upside down. But then these niggles unraveled at speed into something greater, with the bubbling anxiety, coupled with pressure to avoid weight gain drilled daily on news bulletins.

You may have felt compelled to diet or restrict food to avoid lockdown gains.

We know that dieting combined with intense emotion and poor body image is a toxic catalyst for binge eating or emotional eating. It is really no wonder that you struggled.

But before you chastise and berate yourself, seek to reflect and understand.

  • What has been particularly challenging for you in the last year, which may have triggered unhelpful eating?
  • Which emotions have you struggled to deal with?
  • Have you deliberately restricted your eating?
  • Or have you found yourself overeating, bingeing or emotional eating?
  • Or a combination of these?

Woman sitting in empty room

You are not alone. Eating or not eating is numbing, distraction and self-soothing. When constructive coping strategies are stripped away, then you will have been vulnerable to this coping.

So, this challenging year can offer insight and learning into your self-care and emotional soothing. 

As we emerge from lockdown, you may want to invest in upping this significantly and investing vehemently into your mental health. Reading, journaling, therapy, creative pursuits, podcasts, connections, self-care activities – working on filling your cup to the brim.

Ensuring that your emotions are simply not blocked or numbed through super busyness and distraction, but that you are investing in your emotional health day-by-day. 

2. Realise that other people do not care about your body

You might be feeling uneasy about being out in the world again. You may feel worried about the potential judgment of your body from others. Remember that you are not alone in your struggles here.

We have shared humanity in grappling with this new phase. Many people feel apprehensive and scared about going forward. Instead of focusing on doubts and fears, work to view the broader picture and time ahead.

Think about the people who you would genuinely like to connect with. Consider the places you want to visit. Ponder your hopes and dreams for the months ahead.

Hiding away and avoiding the re-emerging world may be tempting and feel safe but will likely exacerbate disordered eating symptoms. 

You can allow yourself space and time to adjust though. You can choose to re-engage with the world at your own pace and in your own time.

So, think about your learning from lockdown and what you can take forward in managing your self-care and emotional wellbeing, whilst giving yourself deep understanding and compassion.

Take time and space to reconnect with the world, and consciously choose the things that help you.

If you are struggling with disordered eating, you may wish to get further support through counselling.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Harriet Frew

Harriet Frew is a counsellor specialising in eating disorders and body image. She has worked in the NHS and private practice since 2003, and is passionate about supporting and educating others through therapy, writing and social media.
Instagram: @the_eating_disorder_therapist; Podcast - The Eating Disorder Therapist… Read more

Written by Harriet Frew

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