Writing by Holly Mackin. Illustration by Sam Geldard.
Eating disorders are the ugliest of illnesses, yet are commonly said to stem from a deep-rooted narcissism. Boris espoused the ‘stay at home, save lives’ rhetoric, yet unbeknownst to thousands of people doing exactly that, their own lives would soon drastically deteriorate during this period. With COVID-19 becoming the newest UK resident, our media was galvanised by her victims. The public became solely occupied with the pandemic, meanwhile an eating disorder epidemic grew profusely behind shut doors, receiving virtually no media attention. As easy as a parasite entering an unexpecting host, many victims of eating disorders remain in denial of their illness. Certainly I was. I just didn't believe I could be one of those people. Owing to the lack of education surrounding eating disorders in the school curriculum and in the national dialogue, people can comfortably cohabit with their illness. They can remain blissfully oblivious to its occupance.
As the media documents the implementation of another lockdown this month, thousands of vulnerable souls anticipate their time measurement unit converting to a measurement of energy. Hours, now calories. The days float past with a mere calorific measurement to testify for them.
The lockdown last March marked my spiral into preoccupation with food. What else was there to do? You may initially convince yourself that it is in a bid to be fit. You start restricting, results start manifesting, and, thus, you are under the rapture of this disease. A bleak and isolating journey to skinny commences. The illness took up permanent occupancy in my brain, crossed his legs and made himself comfortable. So much so that I didn’t think to identify him as an illness. I successfully convinced myself that he preferred to be called ‘healthy living’. Well, this predator was anything but healthy. The media permeated a ‘get fit in quarantine’ narrative, a narrative that resulted in me wincing at my emaciated, debilitated reflection; one which revealed bones I had never seen before. The skinnier I got, the baggier the clothing I wore to hide this new body my resident had sculpted. His intricate dexterity was to my demise.
The disease is never universal. He is a shapeshifter and capable of becoming a tenant in the most unexpecting proprietor. You see, he is a recluse, and loves the solitude of quarantine. Loss of routine for millions fosters the yearning for order and structure. Controlling your eating habits and excessive exercise can quickly become a ‘productive’ regime in the floaty, simulatory weeks we fell victim to.
An eating disorder (be that bulimia, anorexia, binge eating disorder or orthorexia) is incredibly ugly. The subsequent physiological effects are characterised by ‘loss’, be it hair, menstruation, energy or personality loss. These are not, however, translated through the visible loss of body mass. With people wholly insensitive to the language surrounding eating disorders, they can often compliment your new body, completely unaware of the things you have lost in order to be greeted with a trivial ‘Wow! You’ve lost weight!’. In a capitalist society such as ours, where female bodies are sold as commodities, only the sickest girls reap the rewards that skinny yields. Yet at the cost of these hidden, aforementioned losses.
While my journey is highly subjective, I can only provide a candid account of recovery during isolation - my courage to evict the unwanted occupant and provide some tips to help those dealing with the brutal realities of recovery.
First, it is pivotal to acknowledge you are exhibiting disordered eating habits. To reiterate, he is a shapeshifter and can manifest in varying forms. You still will be able to compare your past eating habits and decide. BEAT, a UK eating disorder charity, saw an increase of 80% in the people contacting them during lockdown.[i] While having an eating disorder can feel highly isolating and othering, this statistic attests to the wide reach he has. You are not alone.
Second, you must seek help and/or medical intervention, such as your GP. They will provide you with imperative support while you fight your illness and construct a bespoke and restorative regime. This is often with a nutritional expert who can cater for your needs. Alternatively, there are self-recovery procedures that you can undertake with an intimate support network, such as your family. 3 meals and 3 snacks a day, deleting nutrition apps and throwing away kitchen scales proved to be instrumental for my recovery. Moreover, tailoring social media to cultivate a positive environment, devoid of potential triggers, will loosen the clasp of your disease; weaken his ego slightly, if you will.
Third, practice forgiveness and self-love during your recovery. While in this transitory period towards normal eating behaviours, recognition that your body is worthy of food is the bud from which your recovery will bloom. Holding onto the guilt of inflicting this upon yourself is only counter-productive and in turn renders embarking upon recovery a pointless pursuit. Recovery isn’t always linear. There are peaks and troughs during your turbulent ride. Understanding that you have the power within you to complete it is all you need (coupled with support and nourishing food of course!).
The recovery process is not pretty. Recovery during lockdown is often uglier. Distractions and incorporating normal routine activities will be the key to success. With that key you can unlock the door and see your unwanted tenant has vacated; now nothing more than a petty stranger.
Helplines for those with eating disorders or in recovery during lockdown:
- BEAT Eating Disorder Charity
- Anorexia and Bulimia Care (ABC)
- Overeaters Anonymous Great Britain
- National Centre for Eating Disorders
- SEED Eating Disorder Support Services