Managing Eating Disorders during COVID-19

  • Remain connected to your providers
  • Create a schedule for regular meals and snacks
  • Connect with a support system virtually

Content created by Nicole Hadler, University of Michigan Medical School, Class of 2021, and reviewed by Rachel Berent Fogelberg, LMSW, who specializes in the treatment of mood disorders and problematic eating, specifically emotional, compulsive and binge eating. Content was also reviewed by the Michigan Medicine Comprehensive Eating Disorders Program.

The current COVID-19 pandemic brings specific challenges to those who are managing concerns around eating or body image. The isolation inherent to social distancing efforts can lead to difficulty in maintaining support systems. In addition, the disturbance of daily routines, such as grocery shopping practices and exercise, and feelings of loss of control can worsen stress and anxiety and lead to unhealthy food behaviors. For people who are dealing with eating disorders, this can lead to increased symptoms. Here are some tips for you and/or your family and friends to support your emotional wellbeing during this uniquely challenging time. 

Remain connected to your providers

If you are working to recover from an eating disorder with providers, such as therapists or dietitians, please continue to do so. Most providers are offering telehealth via phone or video so that you can continue to receive treatment. Check with your provider for other online options you can take advantage of such as online check-ins or virtual exercise programs. You can also consider creating or revising a relapse prevention plan to share with your providers so they can weigh in on best options for supporting your recovery during this time. 

Create a structure and schedule for meals and snacks

Having a structured schedule for what to eat and when to eat your meals and snacks can help reduce unhealthy eating behaviors, especially in the current environment where it may be difficult to stick to your typical diet or grocery shopping habits. Plan meals that incorporate a variety of foods and nourish you adequately. Given current challenges around the pandemic, you may need to alter your typical diet to consume food that you would otherwise not be comfortable with. This may cause some anxiety and it is okay to acknowledge that. Enlist your providers, virtual support communities (see below) or family and friends to help you stick to your schedule. Share your schedule with those whom you trust to help you. 

Create a routine for the rest of the day that builds in ample social connection and enjoyable activities to help ward against feelings of isolation and loss of control. 

Utilize resources that connect you with virtual support systems

If possible, reinforce existing support systems through family and friends. Invite them to video dates during meals and snacks via Zoom, FaceTime or Skype. Or implement a system to connect with others after eating so they can support you during those times. If you have people you trust, it is helpful to be open with them about the challenges you are facing and how you are feeling. 

Virtual communities can also be a great resource. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has extensive offerings of online forums, virtual support groups, online peer communities, recovery mentors and live meal support that you can engage with for free or low cost. For further resources or in crisis situations, you can also contact the NEDA helpline here

For parents of children with eating disorders, FEAST offers peer support and a community. 

Final Thoughts

This is a stressful time and it can be especially hard when managing concerns around eating. Allow yourself to practice self-compassion and take care of yourself. Even small things like lighting a candle, sitting on the back porch, smelling the flowers, going for a walk can be immensely helpful.