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Supporting a child with an eating disorder during COVID-19


There is no hiding this. For people with eating disorders this uncertainty is going to be hard and to be honest I am slightly nervous about it too. When we face things like this it can get hard and we start to notice the cracks in our recovery. We start to feel out of control so we do what we can to think we are back in control.

Eating disorders effect 1.25 million people in the UK and a high percent of these are children. This means that when isolating at home, when school isn’t happening if you are supporting a child with an eating disorder it adds another layer of complications. From the fear of whether a hospital day unit will shut to whether you can get the food on the table that you know your child will want. It can feel like an overwhelming list of worry and fear.

The thing for your young person who you are supporting is, at a time of real uncertainty, a time where there is no structure or routine the eating disorder will do what it can to creep in.

Eating disorders have this way of making us feel, like if we do what they say they are the best thing in the world.

Here are 10 ways that will help you and your child during this tricky time:

  • Have a routine for the day: In this routine include meals and snacks. Make sure there are clear timings in place so that the person you are supporting feels able to have a structure and understanding around their day.

  • Go to the shops and get some food they like: I didn’t stockpile this food, but got from essentials for breakfast to cans of tuna. I know that for a lot of us with eating disorders or in recovery this fear of stock piling is really tough. We have the fear of not finding foods that work for us, or fears of trying to be “smart” and then restricting. None of this is helpful. I realised that this was going to be an issue so I had a plan in place from getting a few essentials, to then working out why some foods were “scarier".

  • At the start of each week work out the perfect scenario for food that week, then have back up food options (these are slightly scarier options) and foods that may seem challenging. This allows some flexibility on what the individual will eat.

  • Exercise: The most frustrating word for so many! Yes, it feels scary not knowing if there will become a point when I won’t be able to go for a run. I know I need to be mindful of this but for me now it is about having people accountable to me, being okay with stopping all day and doing nothing. There are workouts online I can do a few times in the week if necessary. Make sure as a family you have some structure around this, and a plan in place.

  • Have the chance to communicate each evening. Reflect on how the day has gone and give your young person the space to feedback on what did and didn’t work

  • Keep meal times neutral; when parents start working at home it can be hard as working and home days become so merged. Set an example by having clear times in your day and make sure you have a period of switch off time. This is key for meal time as it allows the focus to be on the family. It is also important to keep these neutrals. Tempers might be high; people might feel stressed at present but it is important these negative feelings don’t come in to the meal time because otherwise the eating disorder wants us to use that time to show we aren’t okay!

  • Be mindful of what you are saying; remember that just because someone is eating it doesn’t mean they are fixed! You can remind them you know that!

  • Remind them that you are there for them no matter what

  • Keep them focussed on motivations for getting well; long term stuff that will help see a way out of all this. In with this I would courage to find a positive in each day! Keeping the mood up is key!

  • Finally reminding them that you know this is hard, and asking what can you do to support them?

This time maybe challenging for those with eating disorders in perhaps different ways than others. Maintain communication with that person. Keep being honest and amongst all this make sure you are looking after yourself too!

Author's Bio

Hope Virgo is a leading international and award winning advocate for people with eating disorders. She spearheaded the #DumpTheScales campaign which calls on the government to review the eating disorder guidance delivered by clinicians. In addition, Hope works with young people and employers to deal with the rising tide of mental health issues. Hope lives and works in London, runs marathons and has a keen interest in exercise and maintaining good mental health.

You can link with Hope via her website hopevirgo.com

Support Hope's Campaign at #DumpTheScales

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