In March 2020, BuzzFeed News reported a story on the struggles people with eating disorders have faced during COVID-19. This inspired us to ask the BuzzFeed Community how the pandemic has affected their eating disorders. Here are their stories.
“The pandemic has lowered my resilience overall. I thrive off of sharing physical spaces and when that was taken away, my ability to bounce back from things was definitely compromised. The eating disorder’s only function is to provide a false sense of control, so of course it’s going to come back full-steam because we are literally living day to day with no foundation or structure to depend on. Take all of this uncertainty and then pile on financial stress and strained relationships — when resilience is low, the door opens just wide enough for the eating disorder to sneak back in.”
“Before the pandemic, I had developed a healthier relationship with food, had lower pain levels, and was sleeping better. Then quarantine hit and the shit hit the fan. Trying to stock up on food for weeks at a time meant consuming a lot of frozen food and junk food, and since fresh produce became scarce for a while, I leaned into non-perishable options. It’s been a huge challenge.
I’ve finally started discussing it with my doctor to get a handle on things again. If only everyone had listened in the beginning, folks who have eating disorders, substance abuse issues, and mental health struggles wouldn’t be in such a giant spiral right now.”
“I developed an eating disorder after being diagnosed with COVID-19. While having the virus, my appetite disappeared completely. I was spending most of the time asleep or buried in university deadlines. Food lost its importance and quickly did not become a priority.
Fast forward a month later where I’ve fully recovered from the virus, and yet I’m still experiencing stomach problems and diminished appetite. As of January 2021, my appetite is half of what it used to be, and my relationship with food has transformed. Just eating one full meal is a struggle, as I fight the fear of returning to what I was before — COVID-19 has transformed my relationship with food, and as a consequence, I’ve developed an obsessive and unhealthy relationship with it.”
“Right before lockdown I was in the hospital for my eating disorder and upon my release, I entered a strange world where I was on medical leave from work and speaking to my treatment team over the phone and Zoom. I thought I would completely fall apart. But, I found Zoom groups online through a site called The Mighty, I journaled, I colored, I read books, and I leaned on my treatment team for help. I still struggle, but it’s slowly getting easier to accept my recovery body. The pandemic has really put things into perspective for me, and I realized that taking things one second at a time is where I truly find my life worth living.”
“I moved to university during lockdown, and all of the support and social links weren’t available anymore. I had to isolate with my flatmates and although the uni was great at sending us physical supplies — like liquid cleaners and toilet paper — they also reminded us to keep eating healthy and being mindful of our diet. Despite informing the uni of my food struggles, I got no support, struggled to get a doctor’s support, and couldn’t even see my parents. I think the isolation of lockdowns and the shutdowns of so many essential therapists, services, and mental health support groups while restaurants have been open and supported has been really hard to deal with.”
“I relapsed during quarantine and I am slowly trying to recover — quarantine made it a lot easier to suffer in silence. I ended up moving back in with my parents because my ‘best friend’ who I was living with began bullying me because of my eating disorder — I wouldn’t order food or get drunk with her, which annoyed her. It was incredibly heartbreaking to realize that she didn’t care about my well-being at all, and the bullying got so out of hand that I had to move.”
“I’m finally getting professional help to treat my eating disorder, mostly because I’ve had all the down time to start being open with myself about it. However, one of the things I’m supposed to be working on is a daily schedule, and with 72 hours at a time just sitting in the house, my depression takes over and schedules feel impossible. I’m hoping that if I keep learning the tools (even if I’m having a super hard time implementing them right now) at least I’ll have the knowledge to start making some steps forward.”
“I’m in recovery from anorexia. I had just marked one year since being discharged from treatment when the pandemic hit. At times I did very well, then I had to move for work and have been very lonely — I’m currently struggling the worst I have since going through treatment in 2018. It’s hard because there are very few eating disorder therapists and dietitians in my town, and many of them have been overwhelmed by their patient load since a lot of people are currently struggling, so I haven’t been able to see anyone since moving.
At the same time, many treatment centers now offer virtual treatment (IOP and PHP). I’m now looking into doing this because the closest in-person program to me is 130 miles away. I wouldn’t be able to get more care if the pandemic didn’t allow virtual programs as an option.”
“I never had an eating disorder before COVID, then this past year I started to develop some type of eating disorder and new relationship with my eating habits. I will eat because I know I need to for energy and nutrients, but I can’t tell if I am hungry. I feel like if I don’t eat enough, I’ll pass out and faint — even though that’s never happened to me before. It’s like my mind and stomach are not connecting. It’s totally thrown me off.“
“Despite all of the drawbacks of the pandemic, it actually helped in my eating disorder recovery. I was forced to move home back in with my parents due to post-grad unemployment. I could no longer hide my ED behaviors, and I got plugged in with an awesome therapist. I still struggle with ED thoughts, but this unexpected life circumstance may have saved my life. My thoughts go out to all those stuck in isolation with their eating disorders.”
“I’ve struggled for almost 12 years, and I’m in recovery from anorexia and bulimia. I discharged to outpatient care at the end of 2018 and up until the pandemic was doing decently well in my recovery. When COVID hit I didn’t think it’d really impact me as much as it did.
I relapsed within a few months and moved back in with my parents for a little while. By September I was back in intensive treatment — I left, and now I’m going back to treatment again hopefully within the week. The lack of structure during COVID has been detrimental to my eating disorder that craves rules and stability and sameness. Here’s hoping that this next round of treatment will work out and really help me make a lasting change.”
“Lockdown has actually improved my eating disorder. My eating disorder is nowhere near as severe as it was when I was in my teens, but every now and then it flares back up. In the beginning of lockdown I started to stress about gaining weight because of the drastic routine change, but I made it my mission to really focus on myself as much as I could in the healthiest way possible. It only took a pandemic, but I am a much more confident person than I was a year ago.”
“In Denmark we’ve gone through two major lockdowns. The first lockdown threw me back into unhealthy habits of restrictive eating and losing weight. However, this second lockdown has been so much easier. Having found love in myself and knowing that I have been able to get through the toughness of the holidays made me able to embrace others — I’ve met a wonderful guy who I can talk to, and who likes me as I am. Even though it’s hard learning to love yourself, I feel so blessed, full of energy, and aware of how lucky I am.”
“It has been really difficult for me, mostly because of all the diet culture talk that is currently going on. People are discussing getting rid of their ‘COVID-kilograms’ — even my closest friends, who are aware of my triggers, discuss the weight they’ve gained over the past year in negative terms. It’s incredibly triggering for my restrictive eating disorder. It makes me view my weight gain in a negative light, which puts me at very high risk for relapsing.
Furthermore, my country is currently in a serious lockdown, so I am in my house alone. It’s difficult to not feel guilty after eating and to not hear my eating disorder voice — the underlying mental health problems are only amplified by the anxieties that I associate with this pandemic.”
“I actually developed an eating disorder due to the pandemic. I also have severe OCD and thrive on ‘control,’ so living in an environment where we truly don’t know when this pandemic will end has deteriorated my mental health terribly, and as a result, the eating disorder formed. It’s been difficult to get help as well, as most inpatient facilities have extremely long wait lists and aren’t taking people due to the pandemic. This is still the most difficult situation I’ve ever been in mentally, but I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.“
“I’ve struggled with an eating disorder since I was about 10 years old and in February 2020, I addressed it for the first time ever. That May, I started seeing an eating disorder therapist, and in August I joined an intensive outpatient program and took an FMLA (family and medical leave act) from my job. Last week I was diagnosed with COVID and luckily my symptoms have been incredibly mild, but because I lost my sense of taste and smell, eating has become very difficult. I honestly think if we hadn’t been in the middle of a pandemic, I would not have taken the time to address my issues and take time off from work to recover.”
“I’ve put on quite a bit of weight during all lockdowns. I went to the nurse today for a pill check and she said: ‘Ooh, you’ve put on quite a BIT of weight, haven’t you? Is it because of the lockdown?’ Her tone was really condescending. It’s tough enough coping at the moment without comments like that from someone in the medical field.”
“My eating disorder is little bit better now, but throughout 2020 it was terrible — now it’s getting worse due to the third lockdown in our country. The worst thing is that two other family members have the same eating disorder. I know that I have to go in a rehabilitation program to get me out of there, but it’s impossible while I live at home in Austria.”
“After four years of battling my eating disorder through therapists and dietitians, quarantine brought me to full recovery. I started getting worse, and then I hit a really low point. I was exercising constantly, barely sleeping from hunger, and having frequent panic attacks. Since I hit that point, I finally committed to getting healthier, and I started being kinder to myself. It’s been a couple of months now, but I’m more recovered than I’ve been in years. Intuitive eating was never something I thought I’d be able to do, but I made it. I know a lot of people have seen their conditions worsen through this time, so I’m really lucky.”
Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.
If you’re someone who has an eating disorder, we want to know how COVID-19 has impacted it (if at all) in the comments below. Let us know if you wish to remain anonymous and remember: let’s make this a safe space for people to share their stories.