My eating disorder has resurfaced since lockdown. What should I do? 

A reader battled with anorexia as a teenager but is struggling with it once again. She turns to The Midults for advice


Dear A&E,

Lockdown coincided with me realising that my eating disorder from when I was a teenager was starting to resurface and was getting out of control. Today I had a session with my therapist and felt absolutely horrendous afterwards. It’s hard to explain how much I feel like my world has just shattered around me. How do I reconcile having put on what feels like an impossible amount of weight with a world where everyone else in society is constantly striving to be slimmer, when I base my self-worth on being slim? Help. — Shattered

Dear Shattered, 

This is so hard. Maybe it’s helpful to tell you that you are emphatically NOT ALONE. That demand for the support of eating-disorder charity Beat has increased by 81 per cent since the coronavirus crisis began. That, in these semi-lockdown days, when most women open the fridge they hear a little voice saying, ‘What do you want now?’ That – during this pandemic – for all the banana bread, sourdough starters, hysteria about HOW MUCH WE ARE ALL EATING, compulsive running, national dieting, comfort eating and sofa crisps, a lot of people are struggling with old food demons. Lockdown has accelerated mental-health issues. Vulnerabilities are spotlighted. Locked in with your disorder, you have none of the usual structures to support you and your daily routine is disordered. Not only that, but the backdrop of Government diktat – the war on obesity – is a further pressure. Anorexia and bulimia are particularly vicious diseases because anorexics have to face their fear (food) every day, or they will die.

Measures such as calorie-listing on menus are just another way to whip women with our culture’s impossible expectations of slimness; to make us bend, squeeze, count, skip, deny; to make us fold ourselves into shapes that aren’t ours. We interviewed the body-positivity activist and global tanning sensation Jules Von Hep for our podcast I’m Absolutely Fine! recently, and he told us that every woman he’d ever had in his tanning booth – from Victoria’s Secret models to CEOs – apologised for their body. Every single one.

So we understand the broader context, and we too have recently found our demons edging closer, whispering louder. They tell us that we are not good enough, they make us secretive because we are ashamed. (Shame. Again.) And isolation has made it harder to press reset on this stuff, and has deepened our already-vivid loneliness – if we are wired that way.

But you know what, Shattered? You have done the hard work every day since your recovery as a teenager. You can speak the disease’s seductive Parseltongue. You can beat this. You are already talking about it, so talk more. You need a routine to reset the loop – so work out a timetable with your therapist and stick to it. Meditate if that helps. Exercise if that helps (though if you find yourself getting fixated, limit it to one workout a day). Speak to friends about how you are feeling. Don’t stay in the shadows, where this disease wants to keep you; step out into the sun.

Eat three meals a day. Look in the mirror – gah, we know – and focus on the things you like about yourself. Find one thing, however small. Your brows, your cheekbones, your mole, your fingers, your bum. Tell your body you love it (even if you only half believe it right now); revel in the magnificence of it – the magnificence of you. Reject the idea that just because you have put on weight you are suddenly less than. Reject the hell of comparison – it means nothing and harms everything. Claim your space.

You are in a perfect storm right now, where the dark forces are swirling and it might feel easier to surrender rather than to fight again. We know it’s been a devastating realisation, but don’t give up. You’re already winning and we are so proud of you.

Do you have a dilemma that you’re grappling with? Email Annabel and Emilie on [email protected]

All questions are kept anonymous. They are unable to reply to emails personally.

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