Eating disorders, safe foods and panic buying

Adrienne is a Penumbra Recovery Worker. Here, she shares her personal insight on how panic-buying risks disrupting recovery from an eating disorder.

For the past few weeks, shelves in supermarkets have been clearing with restocks disappearing within minutes. For someone living with an eating disorder or in recovery, this results in potential shortages of safe foods. Safe foods are lifelines for people like me.

When I was unwell with an eating disorder, I had a list of safe foods so to limit my weight gain. Safe foods are items which we feel cannot drastically alter our eating disorder. I knew the food inside out, and it made me, or rather my eating disorder, feel in control. These safe foods are also again useful tools in recovery as we gradually create a path to healthier eating patterns. Our bodies and minds have been so used to eating a certain way that when we are faced with the prospect of gaining weight and breaking binges and/or purging cycles, it can be very overwhelming. Essentially, safe foods help maintain recovery so when there are no safe foods due to stockpiling and panic buying, this disrupts recovery.

How the communities we live in choose to shop and consume at this time can drastically impact those living with an eating disorder.

If someone reliant on their safe foods can no longer access them, their eating disorder may just tell them to go without food altogether. It is important to note that it is not so easy for those in recovery to try new foods or find alternatives. We are susceptible to our old coping mechanisms in times of crisis to alleviate the anxieties that make us feel out of control.

In the face of missing safe foods, the key is collaboration. As I mentioned, when someone living with an eating disorder is struggling to find their safe foods, it can negatively impact their mental health and well-being. This is where the role of the carer comes in – someone who can take a degree of responsibility in one’s recovery can help. With help, eating disorders have less opportunity to take control. For the most successful relationship for recovery, people living with an eating disorder should be actively involved throughout.

To those living with an eating disorder and on their journey to recovery, if are struggling to think of alternatives to your safe foods, this person can offer suggestions. If your mind is overwhelmed with trying to appease your eating disorder whilst also getting rid of it, this person can offer ideas. You can collaborate on a meal plan and work with others in sharing the food they have bought by asking if they have a spare loaf of bread or an extra few oranges that they don’t need that you could have?

Currently, stores can be very emotionally exhausting. I advise going with someone you trust who can guide you through the store.

Facing empty shelves and no safe foods can be less upsetting with someone there. They can help you to refocus, remain calm and think through alternatives. Or they can go to the store for you, or do an online shop. Many of us have made bonds with people from social media or online so this can be a useful alternative, particularly in times of social distancing. But, like before, be involved in the process.

This is a difficult time for us all but an eating disorder will relish this chaos. Try your hardest to not let it. You deserve recovery.

To everyone else: stop panic-buying. There is plenty food for us all if we just buy as normal. The stores will remain open and the warehouses are stocked full of food. We won’t run out.

And, wash your hands!

Adrienne Rennie is a Penumbra Recovery Worker and an Ambassador for BEAT