How to support someone with an eating disorder during lock down

So here’s me praying lockdown is nearly over… but it feels like lockdown is each and every day to someone with an eating disorder. Unable to do this or that; because of this rule or that thought. Can’t do this or eat that because of this Eating disorder thought… To us it’s living in lockdown daily but made even worse as society – this society we don’t feel we fit into – is also in lockdown.

Everyone is talking about food shopping: buy essentials – what is that to someone? I for one know my essentials are completely different to the person next door. Coronavirus lockdown has added complications for those suffering from eating disorders; we with Eating Disorders might feel like our mental state around food, weight and shape is worse at the moment.

Please Remember, while eating disorders are categorised by certain relationships with food, they’re really about feelings, and often control. Most people have lost some amount of control over their lives during the lockdown, so we might search for it in our food intake.

Eating disorders are often made worse by additional pressures and stresses. Currently, these could include anxieties around returning to school, being stuck at home with loved ones where the eating disorder is often more exposed, and restrictions on being able to shop for what is needed on a person’s eating plan.

Claire Byrne, specialist support officer at eating disorder charity First Steps, explains “Then there is the need to exercise and the social media pressures that, in turn, can lead to anxieties around seeing people after a period of lockdown, and the person feeling or fearing they have gained weight”.

With so much uncertainty about life right now, you may be struggling to know how to support someone with an eating disorder – and you may also feel frustrated that recovery has taken a step backwards. But there are things you can do to help.

Communicate – It’s important to keep the conversation open and check in regularly.

“It’s vital to ask the sufferer what helps and support them to ensure there is structure and routine to the day,” explains Mandy Scott, mental health nurse and co-founder of eating disorder charity PEDS (Personalised Eating Disorder Support). She continues; “It can also be helpful if they list what they find most difficult about the current situation, together with any suggestions as to how these issues might be tackled and strategies to try to reduce the anxiety.”

Mandy Scott suggests a ‘communications book’ within the family household as well, as there may be situations where the the person may find it difficult to talk. She also suggests setting aside time where the family sits down together (outside of a meal, which can be stressful) and concerns are heard and solutions are found.

Plan and structure. Add structure to your day by following a routine. For example, waking up at the same time, eating meals together and scheduling social activities such as watching a movie, or calling friends.

Claire Byrne gives more insight; “Acknowledge that activities such as overexercise might be an issue for them, and recognise that they are not expected to suddenly stop. Come up with an agreed plan whereby you know what exercise the person is doing, which minimises the risk of ‘secret’ exercise.”

Avoid talking about appearance – It can be easy to make seemingly positive comments that might be misinterpreted. For example, ‘You’re making so much progress during lockdown’ can sound, to someone with an eating disorder, as if you’re saying ‘You’re putting on weight’.

Someone’s eating disorder ‘achievement’ often lies in the control of their intake and not letting hunger ‘win’. The idea of ‘making progress’ might make someone feel extremely guilty and like they’ve failed their eating disorder.

Think carefully about how to discuss things. It’s important to be supportive, without placing too much emphasis on looks, or the progress of their recovery.

Remember you’re not alone – There’s a wealth of useful information and advice online for parents, carers and children. SEED and Breathe has a wealth of knowledge and support for sufferers and carers.

The most important thing is helping the young person to know that they are not alone, and to hold on to hope that things can improve.

Quotes taken from