Why Quarantine is a Hotbox for Eating Disorders, and How to Cool it Down

Published by Emma Kenfield on

Why Quarantine is a Hotbox for Eating Disorders, and How to Cool it Down

Editor’s Note: This story is part of our COVID-19 (the ‘rona) series. Click to learn more about our local ‘rona coverage.

Go outside, don’t be alone, find something to take your mind off of things and get out of the house. 

These are simple ways to cope with an eating disorder flare-up. 

But since the coronavirus has literally locked us all indoors, alone with our thoughts, our phones and our refrigerators, healthy coping mechanisms seem out of reach. 

Social media is flooded with memes about the quarantine-15 — the fifteen extra pounds that will latch onto you while stuck inside.  

You’re going to look like this when it’s all over. You don’t want that. Here’s a detox smoothie and a 20-minute ab circuit that will solve your problems.

When those don’t work, you’re left feeling guilty, as if you’ve failed yourself. These false promises of miracle weight-loss, societal expectations to come out of quarantine as a “skinnier, better you,” and constant reminders on social media are a recipe for insecurity. 

An example of a "Quarantine-15" meme. (Courtesy of Kenzie Rowland)

Kenzie Rowland, a speaker for the Eating Disorder Information Network in Atlanta, has worked  with the eating disorder activism community for eight years now. She said this climate on social media can be triggering for anyone. 

“There are pictures of people in plus-size categories saying ‘you don’t wanna look like this when you get out,’” she said. “That’s triggering for everybody. That’s triggering if you have that body type, and that’s triggering if you don’t have that body type. You’re trained early on to avoid being plus-size.”

Rowland criticized the “What I Eat in a Day” trends on TikTok and Instagram. She said that people are ultra-sensitive now, and while eating a certain way may help one person get through quarantine, pushing their diet onto others can be a serious trigger.

“You’re stuck in the house, you’re stuck with your emotions, you’re stuck with your feelings,” said Rowland. “When you’re stuck inside, and you can’t get to your normal comforts that you use as healthy coping mechanisms, it’s a lot easier to fall back on the unhealthy ones.”

Kenzie Rowland (Courtesy of herself)

Rowland was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa when she was 19. Despite being recovered for 10  years, even she is feeling the pressures from quarantine. 

“I think a misconception with recovery is that once you’ve hit recovery, like, you did it,” she said. “You’ll never have to think about it again; you’re totally cured, and I just don’t think that’s true. You don’t ever totally get rid of it.” 

She compares having an eating disorder to the common cold. You will go months without thinking about it, feeling good and healthy, forgetting that the cold even affects you. And then, without you realizing, you expose yourself to someone who has it and you end up feeling like crap for a while. 

Influencers and fitness gurus shaming the quarantine-15 are spreading this cold-like wildfire. When all you can do is stay inside and scroll through social media, you’re bound to stumble upon something triggering. And without realizing you’ve been exposed, you’ll end up feeling like crap for a while. 

But how long is “a while” in quarantine?

Committing to your health amid the coronavirus means staying isolated and indoors. 

But committing to your eating disorder recovery means surrounding yourself with people and getting out of the house. 

So, will the cold ever end? 

Rowland says there is a way to tackle this issue, and it doesn’t mean disconnecting from the social media world. 

The National Eating Disorders Association’s Instagram is filled with suggested threads, hashtags and accounts to follow that promote healthy coping mechanisms and mindsets. Rowland recommends filtering your account – following those who promote recovery, not who trigger unhealthy behavior. 

“If you’re constantly seeing weight-loss and dieting, that’s gonna make it harder for you to stay in your lane,” she said. “If you’re seeing people posting about recovery, body positivity, self-care, that makes it a lot easier.”

Although in-person social interaction is limited, your support system is still there for you. Don’t isolate yourself more than you’re required to, and reach out when times are difficult.

“If you’re having a hard day, call somebody and be like ‘Hey, I can’t leave my house I know but I really need somebody to talk about this with, are you in the right head-space to chat for like an hour?’ I don’t think that could ever hurt,” Rowland said.

If you are struggling, many therapists and support groups can schedule Zoom meetings, and others often offer phone call sessions as well. There are helplines available through NEDA and Alsana, and recovery clinics are still operating normal business hours amid COVID-19. 

“Just listen to your body,” Rowland said. “Don’t tell yourself that food is the enemy, or there are certain foods you can’t have. Everybody is turning to food right now and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Ricky Sweeting | Avant-Youth
It is A-OK

For those who are struggling with recovery during quarantine, remember this: COVID-19 has shaken us all in unprecedented ways. It is okay if you gain some weight; it is only your body responding to a crisis, as it naturally should. It is okay if you eat a little more while stuck inside. Most of our comforts are unavailable to us right now, so you’re free to turn to food to feel better.

And finally, it is okay if you’ve found yourself succumbing to an eating disorder long dormant or discovering unhealthy behaviors you didn’t know you had. The stress and anxiety brought on by the coronavirus is heavy, and slip-ups are inevitable and to be expected. 

Sometimes you catch a cold, and you end up feeling like crap for a while. Commit to your health and recovery, and the symptoms will subside. 

Amanda Funger | Avant-Youth
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Emma Kenfield

Emma Kenfield is an eager young writer with a taste for the unusual and a passion for the truth. She is currently a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studying media and journalism. She reads and writes poetry in her free time, collects Elvis Presley memorabilia and describes her aesthetic as “grandma-chic.” After working as a reporter for a few years, Kenfield wants to become a lawyer, practicing media and First Amendment law.

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During Quarantine, I Learned More About Myself – Here's How I'm Letting that Improve My Life • Avant-Youth · July 5, 2020 at 8:10 pm

[…] make me more employable. Facebook is covered with workout videos and people worrying about the “Quarantine 15.” Further, I feel like everyone is becoming an entrepreneur or freelancer now, selling art or their […]

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