In the summer of 2019, without realizing it in the moment, I developed a binge eating disorder. It all started upon returning home from college. I was bored with no classes to focus on, no set weekly routine, and no college friends nearby to keep me company. What began as a state of boredom eventually developed into a state of depression, and I found myself eating as a way to cope. Initially I didn’t recognize the problem, but a couple of months later I began noticing the damage being done to my body. I no longer recognized the person I was becoming, so I decided something had to change. Not knowing how to solve the problem myself, I met with a nutritionist to help me begin my recovery. It may sound overdramatic when I say this, but that meeting changed my life and helped me defeat my binge eating disorder. In the following months, I engaged in a more active lifestyle and worked to develop a healthy relationship with food. Not only was I in better shape physically, but I also returned to a strong mental state that my life lacked for far too long.
After months of making such significant progress, the COVID-19 pandemic caused my healthy routine to change dramatically. At school, part of the reason that I was able to recover from my binge eating disorder was because I was busy moving from place to place and interacting with lots of people. However, upon receiving instructions that I would have to stay at home for an indefinite amount of time, I immediately began to fear that my old habits would return. It also does not help that I am quarantining in the same space where I had depression and developed my binge eating disorder, making the urges to binge eat much more inescapable. Being bored at home, feeling sadness from missing friends, and feeling anxious about the pandemic have weakened my ability to fight the urges to binge eat.
In moments when I feel that I am returning to last summer’s state, I think of that meeting with my nutritionist. Her piece of advice that helped me recover was to practice and slowly regain control. It is easier said than done to exhibit any sense of power over an eating disorder, yet somehow I was able to reclaim autonomy over my body. I did so by not only making changes to my diet, but to my life as a whole. In a time in which there is so much uncertainty, it is crucial that we must focus on the things that we have control over (while adhering to public health and safety guidelines). I realized that in order to combat my eating disorder, I must readjust my life to the way it was pre-coronavirus as much as I could. I thought about the aspects of my everyday life that have changed and how I can deal with them in a way that will benefit my mental health.
During recovery from my eating disorder, I developed a routine of going to the gym at least four days a week. Working out not only helped me become physically healthy again, but it also provided me with an outlet to destress. Since I no longer can go to a gym, I take runs around my neighborhood a few times a week instead to stay active. I am lucky to live in California, where I have enough space to run and the weather permits me to go outside. Working out and getting outdoors has helped my mind and body heal during this time.
At the beginning of the coronavirus era, horror stories of grocery stores running out of food (and toilet paper) incentivized people to hoard any and every item, essential or non-essential. Yet, the idea of “stocking up” is not only toxic because it causes people to panic and stress buy unnecessarily, but it also triggers binge eating disorders. I know that having a kitchen filled with ready to eat food makes it extremely easy to binge. For this reason, it is important to establish control over both what foods and how much of each I buy. Doing so prevents hoarding and ensures that I am less likely to binge eat.
While I have always thought of myself as an introvert, being quarantined has really forced me to evaluate the importance of social interactions in my everyday life. This realization is important because much of disordered eating is mental, so it is necessary to get to the root of what causes the urges and what prevents them. Having solitude has generally been something I valued, yet being alone also causes me to be trapped with all of my thoughts, many of them being rather negative during this pandemic. Interactions with people have allowed me to get rid of these negative feelings, if even for a short amount of time. Having plans with friends and spending time outside of the house also makes the possibilities of me binge eating less likely. Having my family with me has helped me cope during this time. While my friends are all spread out throughout the country, I have realized that maintaining communication with friends is crucial to redesigning my normal, healthy routine. I cannot control the fact that in-person interactions are less frequent, but I can control the connections and friendships that I do maintain, whether that be through short text messages or hour-long FaceTime calls.
I know that I do not have all of the answers for living through a time like this. I acknowledge that despite my struggle, I am privileged in a lot of aspects compared to many people. Yet, I think that exploring our emotions and connecting with ourselves and others can help us navigate times like these. To all of those who are experiencing an eating disorder, mental health issues, or even the slightest bit of sadness: I hear you, I see you, and I understand you. It is easy to break down and feel that all is doomed. We are all living in a realm of uncertainty, fear, and fragility. Yet, despite being physically isolated from one another, we are all more emotionally aware and connected to one another and that is a powerful thing.