When I first accepted that my fiancé and I would be quarantining in our home for the foreseeable future and postponing our May 2020 wedding for (at least) a year, one of the first thoughts that passed through my brain was, “Now’s my chance.” This is partly because I had come across dozens of posts from other brides who had rescheduled their weddings due to COVID-19 and many of them joked that, “Now they can finally eat pizza” or “Now finally have extra time to lose those 15 pounds.” Though I had spent my engagement actively fighting against diet culture and the bogus pre-wedding bootcamps and cleanses, the thought did still pass through my brain when we rescheduled that this unexpected extra time before the wedding was a sign that I could (and should) get thinner before the wedding. This, of course, is a completely irrational stream of thoughts in the face of a global pandemic, but it happened just the same.
This is mostly because for a decade or so, these thoughts were all I had. Big life events were dictated by how much weight I could lose before them. Summer vacations were focused on how different I could look by the time I went back to school. Fad diets were something I saw as a necessary evil, their success dependent on my willpower alone. So quarantine? Being stuck inside the house for weeks or months and having more time than ever to think about food, exercise, and my body? I know from experience that that could be a recipe for disaster if I don’t do the things I know will keep me balanced and healthy. This is also why I know that this time is so difficult for so many other women, too. If you are someone who has a complicated relationship with food, exercise, or your body, you’re far from alone — and what’s more, there are some strategies that might make this stressful time period feel even a little bit easier.
Take Time To Grieve & Be Overwhelmed
Here’s the thing: Things really suck right now, and there’s no way around that. Ignoring it? It can be tempting, but it won’t help you stay as healthy, balanced, and happy as possible—even if you think it will. Whether you’re grieving a missed graduation, canceled wedding, or just normalcy, it’s OK to feel said. And as Whitney Catalano, RDN of Trust Your Body Project says, accepting that it’s OK to feel weird right now, too—about your body, food, or anything in between.
“It's not only normal, but it's expected that old body image thoughts or disordered thoughts and behaviors will resurface right now. Eating disordered and disordered relationships with yo-yo dieting develop as coping mechanisms. We control food when things outside us feel chaotic. We hyper-focus on our bodies when we don't know how to feel our feels or make sense of the our experiences,” Catalano explains. “We distract with the high of dieting when we don't have the tools to process our emotions or sit in the discomfort of uncertainty. So in a time when everything is uncertain and life as we know it was turned upside down, of course your brain will go to familiar coping mechanisms as a way of making sense of it. Your thoughts do not define you, and your brain is an unreliable narrator when it comes to your body image.”
Create New Routines
Odds are your old routine is out the window right now. Maybe it’s one that helped you feel healthy and happy. Maybe it’s one that helped you from slipping into old thought patterns and toxic habits surrounding food and exercise. As multiple experts told me, now’s the time to create a new routine.
Dr. Katie Unverferth is an LA-based psychiatrist and explains that “it is imperative to create new routines.” She says, “In place of exercise classes, long walks or outdoor bike rides can be refreshing alternatives. If access to food has changed due to quarantine restrictions, work with a nutritionist to create new meal plans,” Dr. Unverferth suggests. “If you feel urges to binge, purge, or restrict, reach out to a friend, therapist, or psychiatrist to discuss these thoughts. As much as possible, remember that thoughts are just that—thoughts—and may intermittently resurface during stressful times.”
Eating Disorder & Exercise Compulsion Expert Maria Sorbara Mora agrees that now is the time to build a new routine, step by step, especially if you feel like quarantine has affected how much you’re sleeping.
“I counsel my clients to get back to a regular sleep and wake time by moving the waking and sleeping time back an hour every few days until they are back on a schedule that aligns with their best health,” Mora says. “We also discuss strategies for getting to sleep such as creating an evening ritual, bedtime meditations to enhance relaxation and setting an alarm in the morning to get up at a reasonable time.”
Focus On Doing The Best You Can
When it comes to any sort of new routine, though, give yourself a little grace. And, as Catalno points out, remind yourself that you’re doing the very best you can.
“Regardless of what your thoughts are, continue to eat regular meals, doing the best with the food you have access to. Give yourself a break if your exercise routine is off or you aren't eating the way you usually do,” Catalano says. “This is all just temporary. Sometimes the best we can do is focus on surviving. That's okay. We're literally in a pandemic. Nobody knows how to handle this well.”
Try Self-Compassion Meditations Or Mindfulness Exercises
Erika Zauner is a wellness expert and CEO of corporate wellness program HealthKick. Zauner suggests trying out self-compassion meditations during this time to add some mindfulness and stress-relief to your routine. “Any kind of mindful activity brings us into the present and helps us get out of that loop of self-doubt or chastising in our head. There are so many different types of apps to use; Calm and Inscape are two of my favorites, but I especially like these meditations by my friend Kayleigh Pleas, designed to cultivate compassion and mindful awareness in our lives, this allow us to let go of judgments.”
Dr. Unverferth agrees that mindfulness could be helpful in dealing with negative thoughts during quarantine, specially when it comes to identifying them in the first place. “Furthermore, practicing mindfulness so as to not get caught up in disordered thoughts can prevent them from leading to disordered actions,” Dr. Unverferth says. “Sitting with and recognizing disordered thought patterns is an important step to take in order to overcome and navigate through them.”
Get Outside If You Can
Another thing that could be helpful if you have access to it? Some fresh air. “If you can get outdoors, take a walk; getting outside reconnects us with nature which is grounding and reminds us that there is a world out there that is bigger than the story we're telling ourselves in our head and that we're all connected and going through this together,” Zauner explains.
Balance How You Define “Healthy”
If before now you only defined health through exercise or diet, now’s the time to try to look at things through a more holistic lens. Your health involves so many things outside of just your physical appearance, even if society likes to focus on aesthetics above everything else.
Brett Larkin is a yoga instructor who offers many online programs and suggests “balancing what it means to be ‘healthy’ with things other than food or exercise, like journaling, meditation, gardening, and reading."
These are all things that benefit your overall health, and focusing on them as well as food and exercise is a good way to prioritize balance in your life and health.
Find and Practice Calming Rituals That Work For You
Calming rituals are more important than ever, and that’s doubly true if you have a history of eating disorders or disordered eating. Mora suggests things like hot baths or showers, aromatherapy, and deep breathing as strategies for staying relaxed.
“Breath practices are proven to calm our systems by encouraging parasympathetic response. Notice when we are anxious our body will automatically breath deeper. When we practice breathing as a way to calm our bodies, we help it learn a skill that we always have with us. I ask my clients to set an alarm once an hour,” Mora says. “When the alarm goes off, take five deep breaths. These mini awareness breaks provide the body with a parasympathetic nudge.”
Stay Connected To The Recovery Community
If you’ve recovered from an eating disorder, you may value having a recovery community to relate to and connect with. With social distancing in place, it may be harder than ever to see those people in real life. However, staying connected to them is more important than ever, says Mora.
“Many in the eating disorder recovery field are offering virtual support groups, More says.Try doing some research for a community that makes sense for you, but if you need a place to start NEDA has some resources on their website here.
Unfollow Trigger Accounts On Social Media
Multiple experts suggested unfollowing any and all accounts that you may find triggering as you social distance and try to keep a healthy mind-frame about exercise and food. “Social media can present you with a variety and range of behaviors that can be trouble for some,” Kimberly Gomer, Director of Nutrition at Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa says. "Stay away from social media that can tempt you into a restricted diet such as Intermittent Fasting."
Mora suggests completely deleting triggering social media as well. “This is a time to discern what media gives helpful information and which does not,” Mora says.