We’re all going a little (okay, maybe a lot) bonkers from sheltering in place for months at this point. I feel like I’m on a mental roller coaster day to day, sometimes even riding the ups and down by the hour.
I know if this COVID lockdown had happened during my 30 years of compulsive overeating, my life would have been absolute pandemonium.
When you are eating disordered, you are already driven by thoughts you cannot control. An eating disorder is a mental illness. It typically begins after a trauma or repeated negative behaviors. Someone with an eating disorder copes or escapes by using food, just like an alcoholic or drug addict. But an alcoholic or drug addict can live a healthy life without touching their addiction. Not so much for a food addict, binger or compulsive overeater.
How a compulsive overeater might feel during the pandemic
While sheltering in place, a compulsive overeater has so many triggers to deal with. Their whole life revolves around food.
First, there’s the supermarket. Everyone feels an urgency to stock up on everything for fear it will be gone the next day. When your entire life orbits around eating, shopping for groceries can be seriously triggering. You can end up getting so much junk food and/or comfort food that is not only expensive, but seriously unhealthy.
But at the market, the urge to make purchases of these perishables feels overwhelming, especially as you are trying to go through the aisles as quickly as possible trying to get out of there. It is so much easier to grab pre-processed foods that you know and love, than to spend time examining produce, meats, or anything around the outskirts of the market.
At home, a compulsive overeater struggles with their regular amount of food in their house, in their “normal” life. Suddenly, there is more food and the mental gymnastics of dealing with a worldwide pandemic.
After bringing in all the groceries you wonder” what did I touch? Did someone who is infected cough/sneeze/touch any of these items I grabbed or bags that I used? Did I touch my face? Did I wash my hands after touching that? Did I wipe down the cupboard handles? Dear Lord, I’m running low on toilet paper! Stressful situations bring on stress eating.
How society is seeking comfort in food right now
This anxiety typically causes a compulsive overeater to look for comfort in food. But they are not alone. People who do not have an eating disorder are overeating and gaining weight during this crazy time. There are tons of memes out there about the “COVID 15” or the “Quarantine 15,” joking about how much food they are eating and subsequent weight gain. The compulsive overeater sees them all over social media. Yet another thing in their faces that they have to deal with.
On top of it all, whoever you are hunkered down with is likely struggling too in some way. It’s one thing to deal with your own emotions, and yet another to deal with others who are having highs and lows opposite of yours. In a perfect world, you would hopefully balance each other out, but what if that person is turning to food as well? Or what if, with their emotions unhinged, they really get on your case for how much you are eating?
How compulsive overeaters can cope during the pandemic
Are compulsive overeaters doomed for the entirety of the shelter-in-place? Absolutely not.
If you must go to the supermarket to shop, be prepared with a list of healthy meals and snack foods, and tell yourself you are not going to stray from the list (aside from brand substitutions). As stressful as marketing is, try to breathe. Stay on your mission to only get what’s on your list and get out of there.
If you can do a pick-up or get a delivery, again, deliberately and thoughtfully make a list and only order what’s on the list. I don’t care if your favorite trigger food is 95% off, don’t get it!
At home, make a food plan with what you got from the market. Each night, make a program for what you will eat the following day. Make sure you include a treat for yourself in the plan because deprivation leads to bingeing. Stick to your plan. Make one every night to use the following day.
When you feel overwhelmed with the whole COVID-19 thing, as we all are, realize that you are human and normal. Know that overeating is not going to solve the COVID crises, or anything else for that matter. After you eat beyond fullness, you will feel shame and self-loathing. The binge is never worth it.
When you feel hurt, angry, bored, lonely, or plain ol’ discombobulated, do some self-care. Watch a movie, read a book, nap, take a bubble bath, do a puzzle, snuggle with your pet, listen to music, call a friend, or go for a walk. Do something that will make you happy and take your mind and body out of the kitchen. And oh, stay away from social media. If you can’t (I get it!), block the ones that are posting those not-funny memes.
We all feel completely helpless while in lockdown. Nobody knows when it will end and what that end will look like. Eating disorders are about control and feeling less helpless, but the truth is, the food is controlling you, not the other way around. You and your feelings are not alone. There are a ton of telemed numbers you can call to talk to a therapist to help you process your emotions, so you don’t turn to food.
Hang in there. We truly are all in this together. Compulsively overeating will not solve the world’s problems or your personal problems. Try to breathe and take things one day at a time. You can do this!