By Sofia Fortenberry
In the current pandemic of COVID-19, life has begun to unravel for many. Day after day, social isolation continues, and quarantine begins to replace “normal life” in our minds. With reality moving further and further away from our fingertips, our simple home now means more than where we live. It is now our school, work, and, for some, an aspect of safety. However, for others, including myself, it could also mean feeling as though everything is spiraling out of control. That’s because right now, we’ve lost many aspects we once had power over. Before the pandemic hit, I had always had a packed schedule; I was always up and moving. On weekends, when I was able to rest, I always took advantage of it, wishing for that instead of school. But, now that we have that rest, I long for my wish to be reversed. We had control in our lives before, and subsequently, we had freedom.
Yet, for someone struggling with anorexia, much of their life doesn’t seem in their control.
Anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by having very low self-confidence, which causes people to feel as if they need to try maintaining a (unhealthy) low weight through self-starvation and, in many cases, over-exercising.
A major factor of mental health disorders like anorexia is a loss of control. When one's life seems to be out of reach, controlling what goes into their body may become a coping mechanism, and though most people think it is not a bad way to get by at the time, an eating disorder is very likely to form from this negative mindset.
That’s why it isn’t surprising that anorexia rates (along with different types of eating disorders) have only increased in the past few months. I know that many lives have been affected by this mentality—including my own.
Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to fall into these dangerous thoughts. Quarantine has made daily activities quite limited, pushing almost all teenagers to fall back and become dependent on technology. The small bit of social interaction that it seems to give, may help one feel less alone during this terrifying time. However, studies have shown that the more hours spent on technology per day, the greater the negative mindset that takes place.
Social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and even Facebook are somewhat to blame. Instead of showing one’s whole life, we tend to only show the highlights or snippets, which causes many people’s lives on screen to seem “perfect.” This leads many users to compare their lives to that of artificial personas and to feel obligated to look or act in certain ways. In fact, studies show a direct correlation between social media and lower levels of self-esteem. Sixty percent of people using these platforms have reported that their confidence levels have dropped since usage; people who have a negative body image have a greater chance of developing eating disorders, such as anorexia.
When in quarantine, not only can a negative body image occur, but also limited access to a therapist and food supplies, the latter presenting a major problem.
Someone who is going through an eating disorder may rely on certain foods that they normally call “safety foods”—foods that one may consider “safe”. Keep in mind that they are specific to each person, and are a direct result of one’s unhealthy mindset. However, with “safety foods” also come “fear foods”. In most victims of anorexia, these fear foods will likely consist of higher calories foods (normally pasta, bread, sweets, and others). When I was struggling, “safety” and “fear” foods overwhelmed my mind and it was almost all I would think about. Others battling this faced similar experiences as well.
Unfortunately, these “fear foods” are typically the easiest to store away. They will not expire quickly unlike most natural foods like fruits and vegetables. Along with expiration dates, pasta, bread, and more, normally have larger quantities available in stores. They may be the only food available to eat during this time. For someone with a fear of certain foods, they may have a hard time avoiding them during COVID-19, ultimately resulting in rising stress and anxiety. With the added fact that they might have no access to therapy and help, going through this time could be very challenging with an eating disorder.
In these circumstances, nothing is easy. For me, asking for help wasn’t easy. Finding help wasn’t easy, and dealing with the pandemic wasn’t easy, either. In fact, once the coronavirus hit, getting help was at the bottom of the list, almost non-existent.
When the world changed and life was turned upside down, everything seemed to be different—and not for the better.The number of fear foods continued to expand and the safety foods became more defined. Since school was out and no one knew when we would be back, everyone around me started freaking out. Anxiety skyrocketed; my mental health dropped drastically in only a short period of time. I didn’t know what to do or how to pick myself up.
After society finished reeling, the quarantine jokes began and they seemed endless. However, for those suffering from anorexia and other eating disorders, this was just driving home the fact that this was yet another obstacle to worry about. The 19 in “COVID” meant gaining 19 pounds, and, soon, an obsession over-weight, calories, and looks set in. Knowing that society was expecting this made the obsession worse, and I wanted to prove them wrong, to the point of risking my own health and life. Do you know the worst part? My story is just one out of millions. races, genders, ages, and sexualities, COVID-19 has taken its toll; our current situation has come with deaths, tears, and losses.
However, we will get through this together. All eating disorders and mental illnesses are serious illnesses that should not be taken lightly, and, luckily, we as a society are trying to be better, in schools, and even on social media. More and more people have used social media as a way to show realistic beautiful bodies coming in all shapes and sizes. Preventative measures can be taken to help build confidence in yourself and others. Sometimes all it takes is one conversation, one test message, or just one word to make or break a person, so be careful: It always goes back to the “golden rule,” of treating others the way you would like to be treated. and speaking to someone when you or someone else is feeling down can help save lives.
Lastly, know that there is always hope. I know personally sometimes things will get better. It may not seem like it at the moment, but stay strong because whatever is going on, we all deserve a second chance and a life to live to the fullest.
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