08 May 2020

What Self Isolation Can Mean for Someone Experiencing an Eating Disorder


Navigating through changes, adapting to a new lifestyle and routine, and being forced into self-isolation are difficult circumstances for anyone, but this is a particularly challenging time for the 1 million Australians currently experiencing an eating disorder.

Along with physical implications, COVID-19 has also increased feelings of anxiety, fear, uncertainty, frustration, panic – and has globally forced us to restructure our lives and sense of normality. For anyone experiencing an eating disorder, a change in routine, along with heightened levels of stress and uncertainty can lead to a significant increase in eating disorder behaviours and thoughts.

Potential stressors can include but are not limited to:

The disruption to food shopping, food availability, and access to familiar brands can be very distressing for someone experiencing an eating disorder. The photos of supermarkets filled with empty shelves, and the stress of feeling like we have to rush out and purchase food, potentially leading to food hoarding and stock-piling can also be extremely triggering.

Exercise routines changing due to closure of gyms can lead to fear around body changes, as well as increased focus on our bodies and what they look like. There have been an array of memes circulating on social media around people gaining weight during self-isolation, which can ignite feelings of fear, or shame for those living in a larger body.

The inability to receive face-to-face support from comfortable networks such as friends, family, psychologists, dietitians and others can make those experiencing an eating disorder feel even more isolated and alone. This is why it is so important to maintain regular check-ins with the people we love and trust.

We’re likely to be comparing ourselves to others whilst being stuck at home, with increased pressure on us to be more productive and accomplish different projects. This is compounded by many of us spending more time on social media, which can be damaging if the accounts we’re following are unhelpful or even destructive.

The effects of COVID-19 and social isolation won’t only have an increased impact on those experiencing an eating disorder, but also on the 2 million people in Australia who are currently caring for someone experiencing an eating disorder.

According to clinical psychologist and Butterfly Helpline manager, Juliette Thomson, ”Some carers are reporting increased stress and concern due to COVID-19, primarily around the drastic change of their support routine as well as the difficulties with physical distancing. There are a lot of increased concerns about health and healthcare of a loved one. The financial instability and impact on accessing treatment can also be very scary and unsettling at this time.”

Physical distancing & social connections

“We have seen an increase in our webchat within the past couple of weeks, and expect there to be more demand as people are increasingly psychically distancing themselves,” Juliette added. “Having negative emotions at this time is understandable and very normal. Now, more than ever it is so important to remember whilst we are physical distancing we need to maintain social connection. Physical distance, not social distance.”

“Eating disorders thrive on isolation so it’s critical to stay connected with family and friends. Social media (when used appropriately), video calls, and phone calls – all play a part in making sure we stay connected. Set a time every day for a video call with a group of friends. Try to limit your exposure to news, and even then only at set times of the day, and only follow reputable sources. Practising mindfulness and engaging in journaling, meditating, chatting with friends, and other activities you enjoy can be extremely helpful during this challenging period,” she added.

Get support – 

If you or someone you know is experiencing an eating disorder or body image concerns, connect with our national Helpline, open every day between 8am and 12 midnight AEST. We can be reached at 1800 33 4673, via webchat, or email at support@butterfly.org.au