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Helping Your Child Manage an Eating Disorder During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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By Dr. Amanda Fialk, LCSW, LICSW

Partner and Chief of Clinical Services at The Dorm

The global coronavirus pandemic is impacting lives everywhere. And for those vulnerable populations with an eating disorder (EDO), social distancing measures and other mass disruptions have created the perfect storm.

Across the country, we have seen widescale interruptions to conventional treatment programming as a result of efforts to fight the virus. The detrimental impact of a loss of structure and routine cannot be overstated.  Add to that the panic buying now occurring around common triggers such as food and grocery shopping and a social media obsession with staying fit and push-up challenges, and it’s no surprise that young people managing an EDO are struggling more than ever.

For parents trying to navigate this new landscape with their children, Dr. Amanda Fialk, Partner and Chief of Clinical Services at The Dorm, offers four concrete pieces of advice:

1. Prioritize Sustaining The Professional Support Your Child Needs Through Online Therapy and Resources

If your child was receiving support before, now is not the time to quit. Many therapists, dietitians, and treatment centers are able to provide services through telehealth and Eating Disorders Anonymous (EDA) meetings are a wonderful, free self-help resource. Online therapy may be new to your child, but with a little adjustment, it can be very appropriate for many populations and just as effective as sessions delivered in person.

If your child has been putting off getting help or getting the right level of care and is experiencing anxiety, now is the time to reach out and help her (or him) seek the support she needs.

2. Encourage Them To Foster Positive Connection

Eating disorders thrive in isolation. In addition to professional support, a supportive community is imperative to helping your child combat eating disordered behaviors and counteract tendencies to withdrawal. Social distancing does not need to mean social isolation!

While screen time may have been ‘limited’ before, now it’s time to encourage the screen time that will keep her connected with the trusted network of people that build her up and help her feel supported and loved. The best way to do this? Model the behavior yourself! Facetime, text, and call the friends and loved ones who fill you up emotionally and spiritually. Invite your child to join video meals with family members or friends or play virtual games together online. Show her that she is not alone!

3. Help Create Routines and Structure

 Everyone does better with structure, but this is particularly important for those with an eating disorder, especially around mealtimes. Most eating disorder recovery plans include three meals a day and 2 to 3 snacks evenly spaced throughout the day. It’s important that your child knows what and when the next meal or snack will be. You can work with her dietitian or therapist to help facilitate this at home and help counteract under or overeating, maintain good nutrition, and stabilize blood sugar levels, which supports balanced mood levels and emotional coping mechanisms.

Beyond mealtimes, try creating family routines that involve getting up, getting dressed, and doing something every day that feels productive and fosters joy and gratitude. Whenever and however possible, try to integrate activities that feel “normal” into shelter in place life. This could be streaming virtual Broadway shows or taking a virtual museum tour. Whatever it is, engaging in these activities can help stave off depression for both yourself and your child.

4. Last But Not Least, Model Self-Care And Self-Compassion

 There is no better way to help your child practice self-care and self-compassion than modeling that behavior yourself. Do the things that help minimize stress and help keep you energized. Get regular sleep. Spend time outdoors and get some fresh air. Practice meditation or mindfulness techniques. Take time to rest, and don’t try to fill each moment with chores and feelings like you have to be productive. Banish negative self-talk and limit social media and media consumption, which can agitate already high anxiety levels.

All of these practices are not just good for you, but for your child to see and try themselves. Self-care and mindfulness are lifelong skills that will help your child fight eating disorder urges or self-destructive cycles, and help him or her confront the challenges of our time, with love and radical acceptance, one day at a time.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About The Author

Dr. Amanda Fialk, LCSW, LICSW, is Partner and Chief of Clinical Services at The Dorm, a young adult treatment community in New York City and Washington, D.C. that offers partial residential treatment, evidence-based clinical therapies and practical life skills training to help clients in their pursuit of greater independence. As a result of the global coronavirus pandemic, The Dorm is now offering all treatment services virtually.

 Photo by Hannah Busing by Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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