CORONAVIRUS

Self-isolation due to COVID-19 can cause challenges for those recovering from eating disorders

Cathy Keys-Andrys

Nurse
Cathy Keys-Andrys Nurse
/

As Iowans weather social distancing, lack of structure, and fear of themselves or loved ones contracting COVID-19, people with eating disorders may face additional challenges of managing their illness.

Cathy Keys-Andrys, an advanced practice nurse in behavioral health at Unity Point Health — Cedar Rapids, is helping her clients navigate the changes the novel coronavirus has brought.

“For a lot of people with eating disorders, restricting food or overeating, those are coping measures for stress,” Keys-Andrys said, pointing out the increased level of stress COVID-19 is causing for a lot of people.

“Here are some of the things people can do: Keep some structure, get up and eat meals and snacks each day at the time they should be eaten, help coach people who are living with you how they can be of help for you,” she said.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 30 million people in the United States have an eating disorder at some point in their lives, and roughly 90,000 Iowans will battle an eating disorder.

A lot of people with eating disorders may struggle with losing their support system during this time. Some of Keys-Andrys clients have lost the routine of eating meals with friends at school or on college campuses. Others find it difficult to no longer go to work with a prepared lunch, knowing what they were going to eat that day.

“This is the best time to focus on you, making sure we’re listening to our body’s signal for nourishment, for sleep, and for love, care and support,” Keys-Andrys said.

To do that, Keys-Andrys said it’s important to develop new daily routines.

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Waking up in time for breakfast and eating meals and snacks at regular hours is a start. Stay in touch with people who are part of a support system via phone calls, FaceTime and texts.

Reframe the idea of social distancing to “physical distancing,” Keys-Andrys said.

“Loneliness is one of the reason’s people binge and purge,” Keys-Andrys said. “Trying to protect ourselves from loneliness is an important coping tool.”

Exercise, but don’t overdo it, Keys-Andrys said. Taking a walk around the block and stretching are great ways for people to stay active.

Make a self-care menu. “What can you do each day to sooth your senses?” Keys-Andrys asked.

A self-care menu can be anything from aromatherapy to petting your animal to having a cup of tea.

Keys-Andrys also suggests engaging in activities like playing board games, putting together a puzzle or coloring.

For some people, it may be important to coach the people they are living with to not say anything about what they eat. For others, they might need encouragement from the people they are self-isolating with.

It’s more important than ever to eat well to keep immune systems strong, Keys-Andrys said.

Buy food for nourishment at the grocery store, and steer clear of high-caloric, less nutritious foods, Keys-Andrys said.

It’s important for people in recovery from eating disorders to remember they are needed — by their children, their pets, their grandchildren and for their future.

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“I have a patient who has a great plan for after high school: To go to college and into health care. We need people to recover and remain recovered (from their eating disorders),” Keys-Andrys said.

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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