As we settle into the second half of 2021 and the world increasingly opens up, you might be experiencing a kaleidoscope of mixed emotions — happiness, relief, fear, anxiety. It can be overwhelming to re-engage with our former lives and transition into a lifestyle that we haven’t participated in for more than a year.
Anxiety and isolation have been a hallmark of the COVID-19 pandemic, and while the isolation is changing, the anxiety might not be — the topic might just be shifting. Big transitions can be difficult for all of us, and for people who experience a lot of anxiety, there can be a correlation to developing eating disorders. The anxiety and isolation caused by COVID-19 aren’t going to go away quickly, and I think we will continue to see a wave of increased need and eating disorder presentation from the collective trauma we’ve all endured.
As Chief Strategy Officer of Veritas Collaborative and The Emily Program, I’m walking through a transition as well — understanding how to best help people with eating disorders progress into a world with fewer COVID-related restrictions. Here are my reflections on how to navigate the emotions of life in this time of transition.
How Reconnecting Can Help Individuals with Eating Disorders
I believe the opportunity for more connection will be positive for all of us as we emerge from isolation. People need connection and now people can engage in person with their support networks.
We’ve also seen a tremendous increase in need over the course of the pandemic. I think as people reconnect, we will see even more need as we are able to have deeper check-in conversations that come from in-person interaction. We may hear statements such as “We just had lunch together and I’m concerned about how your lunch went,” or “You look really sad,” or “You look really anxious, how are you doing?” We will more readily be able to see that people are struggling with body issues and eating disorders and have more opportunities to step in and help.
Struggling With an Eating Disorder After Isolation
Because we have been so isolated throughout the pandemic, some people may not have fully noticed how much they were struggling. Transitioning out of isolation may be particularly difficult for these individuals who find their struggles thrown into sharp relief by this change. The isolation compounds itself and makes most people feel less willing to engage in connection because it feels scarier. They may have thoughts like: What if my friends notice something when we hang out and eat together? How will I exercise enough when my schedule fills up?
I worry that the isolation has been so intense that people will find it very hard to get out of it. It will be important for people to step in and help by encouraging their friends and family to safely come out of isolation, whether that’s a stroll in the neighborhood, meeting in the park, or having lunch.
How Treatment will Evolve as the World Opens Up Again
As we move closer toward a post-pandemic world, we’ll be able to loosen some of the restrictions that our clients and staff have had to experience, which will be a huge feat. COVID-19 did help us recognize that people can access care in new ways. If more telehealth treatment is available in the future, that’s going to be an incredibly positive thing to come out of the pandemic.
Another constructive element to come from COVID-19 is the decrease in stigma around eating disorders. There’ve been a number of regular commentaries in the media on the increase in eating disorders during the pandemic. People know a little bit more, they’ve heard a little bit more, and they’ve been staring at their social media more. They’ve seen the conversations of celebrities who have been talking about having had an eating disorder. I think the awareness of eating disorders is much higher now and the stigma is a little bit lower. This will help people better access care and let people know they’re struggling.
Lessons Learned From the Pandemic
Other than a strong motivation to double down our focus on connection, COVID-19 silver linings are in short supply in relation to eating disorder treatment. I think it’s helped us more easily tell someone when we’re sick — whether that’s experiencing cold symptoms and not reporting to work, telling someone that you’re struggling with an eating disorder, or something else. I hope we learn that lesson as a society — that it’s okay to say when something is wrong because there is always help for what you need. Being able to say, “I’m not okay. Can you help me?” helps you and your neighbor stay safer.
If you or a loved one needs help and is interested in learning more about eating disorder recovery, explore Veritas’ core program elements.
About the Author
Dr. Lampert is the Chief Strategy Officer for Accanto Health, with brands Veritas Collaborative and The Emily Program. Additionally, Dr. Lampert is Co-Founder and President of the REDC, the national consortium representing eating disorders care focused on treatment standards, best practices, access to care, and collaborative research. She is also Treasurer of the Eating Disorders Coalition, a DC-based national organization for eating disorders policy and advocacy, and a Board Member of WithAll, a Minnesota-based organization that empowers eating disorder prevention and strengthens support for recovery. She holds an adjunct graduate faculty position in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota.
Dr. Lampert completed her doctorate degree in Nutrition and Epidemiology and Master of Public Health degree in Public Health Nutrition at the University of Minnesota. She earned a Master of Science degree in Nutrition at the University of Vermont and completed her dietetic internship at the University of Minnesota Hospital and Clinics. She has an expansive range of policy, clinical, research, education, teaching, and program development experience in the area of eating disorders.
One of her primary goals in life is to have the kids in her house (and everywhere!) have confident, loving relationships with their bodies and themselves.