OPINION: If isolation is triggering unhealthy eating habits, you’re not alone

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Lately, eating disorders seem to be a mainstream focus. People are sharing their experiences, their recoveries and their relapses. Everyone talks about how planning their diet, incorporating healthy exercise and finding time for self-care is the best way to develop a sustainable and enjoyable lifestyle.

Those suggestions are great, if they work for you. What people are not talking about, though, is over-planning and how the repetitiveness of COVID-19 isolation and quarantine creates an environment ideal for relapsing into old, dangerous habits.

Ignoring the lack of social interaction, enforced quarantine creates the perfect setting for healthy living. People can set their alarms in the morning, cook healthy food and have plenty of time to exercise outdoors or indoors, away from prying eyes. Meal planning and complete control over diets gives everyone the opportunity to build a healthier lifestyle — or the chance to finally obsess over food, either for the first or hundredth time.

When I recovered from my eating disorder, the one, consistent aspect that helped silence the constant anxiety of whether I was eating too much or exercising enough was the inconsistency of my new eating habits. During the worst times, I refused to eat out or with friends. Once I attempted to recover, eating with friends became my safe haven.

Social settings pushed me to become less concerned with how much I ate and more focused on whether I liked the food or not. By going out with friends, I could no longer plan my meals. I ate like a normal person — whatever normal means — and could go without counting calories obsessively. By not planning, I could breathe again.

Since COVID-19, my old habits are pushing me to plan my meals, exercise and every other aspect of my life. If I eat too much one day, I immediately feel the compulsion to eat less the next day. I know I am not alone in this battle.

Planning is not fun. By planning “healthy meals” and workout routines, it becomes easy to forget about intuitive eating and start focusing on the amount of food going in and out of your body, and whether or not you meet society’s image of healthy.

Eating can quickly become the center of your life during COVID-19 because there is not much else to do. With eating at the forefront, people with sensitivities to changing lifestyles are in a precarious position. Less social environments and more structured eating habits are also encouraging mindfulness. Sometimes, though, mindfulness can become obsession.

Instead of focusing on creating a healthy lifestyle, one worthy of Instagram posts and body-positive selfies, I encourage anyone with a history of eating disorder struggles to forget about being healthy. Instead, eat when you want, and listen to your body and emotions. If you eat too much sugar one day and feel gross the next, your body will adjust and learn to not inhale too many sweets later. If you put on a few pounds and notice a lack of energy, then go right ahead and make adjustments. If you can keep up with your daily priorities, though, and still have some energy left over, then I think you are handling life perfectly fine.

If you enjoy exercise, then go for it, but if working out begins to feel like a drag, or is a way you convince yourself you “deserve” more food, the habit is probably becoming unhealthy. If your days are built around tracking your food intake, then I suggest finding a way to channel the compulsions towards food into something that adds joy to your life, like a hobby or seeing friends.

I know for many, eating can seem like the most daunting task on earth. Are you eating too much or too little? Are you thinking about food too often or not enough? If these thoughts become obsessive, check in with yourself. Is meal planning becoming an issue? Are you centering your days around eating?

I encourage everyone to be wary of the habitual thoughts that can occur with meal planning and complete control of eating habits. If you notice your eating habits are worrying you, then you are not alone. Plenty of people are struggling with eating during this pandemic.

Peyton Froome is a freshman in English. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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