Navigating Eating Disorder Support During a Time of Uncertainty


McKenna Christy, Contributing Writer, Columbus OH

Now more than ever social media is the core of interaction and connection between every person around the world, and noticeably, there has been much pressure to “better oneself,” through exercising and “eating right.” However, the truth is, the way in which you personally have reacted to this pandemic, is totally valid. 

It’s easy to feel obligated to follow certain cultural trends that have suddenly surfaced in the past couple of months. And the hub for these trends have majorly been developed through the social media app TikTok. 

The app, in which videos of a minute or less can be watched for hours throughout the day, share so much information that most of the time we don’t register what is right in front of us. Although in some cases, there is an exception. It’s likely that teens have stumbled upon videos of people sharing what they eat in a day to stay “fit and healthy” or more to maintain a certain weight while stuck at home. The intentions are to share with the world a part of their life, which is the purpose social media serves. What is the result, though, if the person filming “what they eat in a day” consists of very small and obviously unhealthy portions? 

The influence that video has on someone struggling with an eating disorder or their relationship with food can be triggering due to its implications. The type of video can cause comparison, and while it seems that a person could swipe to the next video, it’s mentally not that simple. Speaking from personal experience, finding these videos is seemingly a reminder to obsess over the amount of food eaten throughout the day almost as if that’s what being promoted right in front of me. Eating disorders should never be encouraged or romanticized! 

There’s no one to blame as this is the sacrifice made by having social media: there are going to be photos, videos, and comments that cause mental health triggers. This does not mean people cannot be mindful of what they post, and understanding the effects that certain subjects have on people would create a safer environment for everyone. Unfortunately, this would only exist in a perfect world.

But that’s just one of the scenarios or part of the climate people with eating disorders are living under during this pandemic. Doctor Lauren Mulhliem of Psychology and a certified eating disorder expert, writes in her article “Eating Disorders During the Coronavirus (Covid-19) Pandemic” (courtesy of Verywell Mind) more about this subject.

Not only is there the additional stress from social media, Doctor Mulhliem mentions that daily life has been completely disrupted. Having to be at home the majority of the day on most days is a new obstacle those with eating disorders must encounter. Some people do not live in atmospheres with healthy relationships or they may live alone, and any of these situations can result in disordered eating, especially if they have used it as a coping mechanism in the past. 

It doesn’t make a difference if someone is recovered, is on the path toward it, or hasn’t started, there are concerns for everyone. 

Finding pre-pandemic treatment for eating disorders was already a difficult process as the illnesses that fall under it are hardly recognized or discussed nationally, and there are remaining conflicts regarding insurance coverage as well. But for those who were already receiving some form of treatment, there’s a chance what that looks like is completely different now as “…individual outpatient, intensive outpatient, and partial hospitalization programs- are moving to virtual treatment models, meaning that patients have video sessions from home,” says Doctor Mulhleim. 

However, despite the new challenges, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has provided ways in which those struggling in any degree can receive some form of assistance. There is never an unsuitable time to get help. Everyone is deserving of it. As NEDA mentions in their Covid-19 resources, the following are not replacements for eating disorder treatment, but ways to reach out for support. 

First and foremost, the NEDA’s (confidential) Helpline is still available. If you or somewhere around you is needing urgent support or extended knowledge on receiving treatment, contact the helpline at (800)-931-2237. There is also the crisis helpline, which can be reached by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

Another resource the organization has created to fit the dependence on technology during this time is a connection video series. Everyday there is a live video on Facebook where different eating disorder experts share presentations. These videos are also archived, so there are no worries if the time slot does not fit into your schedule.

A vital tool for people in eating disorder recovery, or recovery for any mental illness or disease, has been support groups, and for social distancing purposes, they cannot be conducted in person. NEDA has a guide for virtual support groups through the NEDA Network, the organization’s alliance with other groups of similar goals in supporting those with eating disorders. There is a support group for all groups of people, and the links to register are provided. Also, it is easy to find ones that are free.

Discussion can be a powerful tool in better understanding your own needs when it comes to disordered eating, and also finding someone who can relate. Overall, hopefully lending some sense of relief. NEDA’s website has dedicated forums to meet these important aspects while at home. No matter what time it is, anyone can write and post their feelings, concerns, or struggles, but there are guidelines and rules that must be followed in order to maintain the safety of the forums. The guidelines mention that these forums are intended to be for people 13 years or older, and that sharing medical advice is prohibited. 

Eating disorders should never go unnoticed, and as we isolate in our homes, being understanding and empathetic towards those struggling is essential to how these individuals are able to find and receive support. It is more difficult to know if a friend or a loved one (who is not living under the same roof) is showing signs of disordered eating. That’s why, a simple straightforward check-in text can make the most difference for the sake of their health as we all attempt to navigate mental stability during this pandemic- whatever that looks like for us.