People with eating disorders usually find food shopping difficult, but the coronavirus pandemic poses an even greater struggle and has left some feeling more anxious than ever before.

Having battled anorexia for 20 years before starting up her own Suffolk-based charity to support those with eating disorders, Debbie Watson is aware of the complex debilitating mental battles millions face every day, and knows just how lockdown will be impacting those vulnerable people.

More: Suffolk woman’s 20-year anorexia battle inspires new ‘kindness in a box’ service

Here are her top tips for anyone with an eating disorder who is finding it difficult during lockdown.

Food shopping

• Prepare a list

• Have alternatives in mind – Debbie says it is important to do this incase your ‘safe food option’ is not in stock at the supermarket

• Arrange to call a friend or family member whilst you are shopping in case your anxiety overwhelms you and you need some support

• Do your shopping online if you can get a slot

• Ask a friend or family member to get your ‘safe food’ for you if you are having trouble finding it in store

Day-to-day life

Debbie, who lives in Woodbridge, says that distraction techniques are important in lockdown especially at meal-times, as there is no opportunity for those with eating disorders to go out and exercise or escape to see a friend.

She said: “All elements of our lives are limited at the moment, so meal-times can be really difficult.”

Her tips include video-calling a friend or family member for company during your meal if you live alone, or playing a game with your family or picking a conversation topic to help ease your anxiety.

Having a routine is also essential, says Debbie.

She said: “A routine and set meal-times is so important, you can’t let your eating disorder take over.

“A good sleeping pattern is also equally as important.”

‘It is important to switch off’

Eating disorders are already very isolating, explains Debbie, but the added pressure of lockdown can feel too much for some people.

“One thing we have to be very careful about is not reading too much into the coronavirus pandemic, or watching too much of the news,” explained Debbie.

“It is important to switch off before you sleep, and even though I have overcome my eating disorder I know how important it is for me to go to bed with peace of mind.”

Debbie advises watching some ‘go to giggle viewing’ or listening to something funny before getting into bed.

She stresses that hours spent on social media is not great at this time as it is flooded with people promoting lots of exercise and the need to be healthy.

‘Don’t feel guilty for needing support’

She explained: “Social media is much worse at the minute, it’s almost like it is in January time when there is lots of pressure for people to exercise and feeling like they need to lose weight.”

Debbie says people with eating disorders need to understand that while this may be true for some people who don’t know how to stay active and well, these are unhelpful behaviours for someone struggling.

Lockdown also strips people’s reliance on GP’s and counselling appointments, with some stopping altogether and others becoming more sporadic.

It is therefore important to try and “build-up your own support mechanism” but always remember to reach out if you need to and never feel guilty or unwanted.

Services see huge increase in demand

She added: “If ever self-care has been more important it is now. For many people this will be the motivation they need to stay healthy and well to help them support the NHS and not put further pressure on the service.”

Peoples lives and daily routines will be “turned on their heads” by the pandemic and it will put real pressure on those with eating conditions, says Debbie.

With a huge recent increase in demand of its services as a result of the pandemic, Wednesday’s Child has now launched a listening service for families and those affected by an eating disorder – thanks to a generous donation from DPS Technology.

The helpline will receive calls throughout the day and evening and poses great support for sufferers and families unable to access ‘in person’ appointments and support during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Debbie Watson, who founded the social enterprise which allows those concerned about friends and family going through mental health struggles to send a carefully curated gift box – says it is important to continue to reach out during the pandemic if you are struggling.

For any information or guidance, please visit the Wednesday’s Child website.

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