Though 2020 has now officially passed, COVID-19 remains in our present. We are still living through unprecedented times, most of us confined to our homes and surrounded by reminders of the pandemic’s impact. We continue to experience profound stress and anxiety, both of which are only compounded by the stress of months past.
Eating disorders are very troubling in these circumstances.
As many of us are now well aware, the stress of 2020 has exacerbated eating disorder thoughts and behaviors in many people. In some cases, those who were already struggling have experienced even more intense symptoms, and some who were previously in stable recovery have found themselves struggling again. Others who had never experienced these illnesses have found themselves dealing with one for the first time. It is painfully clear that there are millions of people who need attention and care for their eating disorders.
Yet, now that the holidays have passed, we face additional stressors without some of the season’s typical joys and pleasures. Many of us did not have the opportunity to be with family, friends, and loved ones in the ways to which we are accustomed. We had to drop or adapt our holiday traditions. We were unable to travel, hug, and share physical space with one another. These stressors pile onto the many others of 2020.
In the swirl of pandemic-related stress, we are also bombarded by messages that do not protect our physical, mental, and emotional health during this time. Seemingly everywhere you look, there is another message about dieting or exercising at home in this post-holiday season. Each spreads fear about weight gain—be it holiday weight gain or the “quarantine 15”—and offer diets and exercise as a magic solution.
These messages are examples of diet culture and our society’s obsession with weight, size, and shape. They are distractions from the pandemic, and, though they can trigger disordered thoughts, they are not directed at people experiencing eating disorders. We know they are not written or shared with you, your illness, or your recovery in mind.
We also know the things that would normally keep us healthy will keep us healthy still. The ways you have previously protected your recovery are ways to try again. What has given us hope before is what we can tap into now.
In this time of resolutions, we often resolve to make changes on a personal level. But hope comes not only from a connection to oneself, but also from a connection to others. This year, let’s also resolve to be part of a better community. Let’s work to make our community healthier and stronger so that we can all live with greater peace, health, and joy within it.
It can be hard to reach out, but do it. You can make the video call. Send the text or email. Reach out to family, friends, and loved ones who know how to speak to your heart. If you do not have these people, reach out to us. Reach out to recovery organizations and online communities. Reach out to support groups. There are other people in your situation, as well as many others who are ready and able to help.
It is our sincere hope that 2021 is better than 2020. With a vaccine now available and distribution underway, there is promise that it likely will be. So, please tune out the noise of diet culture. Block out the chatter of weight loss resolutions. Tune in to the people you love and the community we share, and let’s bring forth a better year.
The Emily Program has help available for you, your loved ones, and your patients suffering from an eating disorder. If you are seeking help for yourself or a loved one, get started by completing our online form or by calling 1-888-364-5977. If you are a provider, learn more about the signs of these illnesses in your patients and others, and make a referral online.
Mark Warren is the Chief Medical Officer of The Emily Program. He is also one of the original founders of the Cleveland Center for Eating Disorders, which became The Emily Program – Cleveland in 2014. A Cleveland native, he is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Medical School and completed his residency at Harvard Medical School. He served as Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Mt. Sinai Hospital and Medical Director of University Hospital Health System’s Laurelwood Hospital. A past vice-chair for clinical affairs at the Case School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry, he continues on the Clinical Faculty of the Medical School, teaching in both the Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics. He is currently a faculty member and former chair of the Board of Governors at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. Dr. Warren is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, a two-time recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and a winner of the Woodruff Award. He leads the Males and Eating Disorders special interest group for the Academy of Eating Disorders.
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