By the Teacher Shark Doo Doo Doo Shirt and by the same token and time I met my boyfriend a year ago, I’d made massive strides in my recovery. The eating disorder had steadily loosened its hold on me, and for the first time in my life, I’d created a healthy structure around my eating and exercise habits that felt realistic and sustainable. Then the pandemic hit. The good news is I haven’t experienced a full relapse or fallen too far back into the old destructive patterns that to this day still beckon me with the comforting familiarity of a warm blanket and Real Housewives marathon. Compulsive calorie counting, grueling workouts, and the mental gymnastics required to engage in both have robbed me of countless experiences and opportunities while offering a false but soothing panacea for just about every stressful life scenario. But the truth is, mandated social isolation and an unprecedented amount of time with my own thoughts have reawakened old patterns and behaviors I’d hoped were long gone: more intense scrutiny of my reflection on every trip past the hallway mirror, and workouts that have slowly crept up in length and intensity for the sheer reason that I have all the time and none of the excuses to cut them short.
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I’ve had the Teacher Shark Doo Doo Doo Shirt and by the same token and extremely fortunate privilege to invest years of time and money into recovery, and I’ve been able to pull myself back from the brink of a full-on relapse. But the resurfaced feelings have left me wondering how people in more vulnerable positions are faring as they quarantine with their mental illness. The answer, according to new research out of the U.S. and Netherlands from top ED experts, is: not great. I first met Cynthia Bulik, PhD, when I wrote about her groundbreaking research on midlife eating disorders in 2016. When I reached out to Bulik, Distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders in the Department of Psychiatry of the School of Medicine at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to ask her if there were any current studies on the impact of quarantine on eating disorders, she had just finished a paper on the very topic. The study, published earlier this week in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, looked at the experience of about 1,000 people in the U.S. and the Netherlands, and it finds that people with anorexia are reporting increased restriction and fears about being able to find foods consistent with their meal plan. Those with bulimia and binge eating disorder are reporting increases in their binge eating episodes and urges to binge. Across the board, people with eating disorders are reporting marked increases in anxiety since 2019 and are expressing greater concerns about the impact COVID-19 is having on their mental health over their physical health.