The COVID-19 pandemic, with limits to physical interaction and encouragement to stay home, is adding pressure on those working through eating disorders — leading one foundation to quickly adapt to ensure they continue providing help to those who need it.
Silver Linings Foundation, a local organization with the goal of providing world-class residential eating disorder treatment to Calgary, has seen the effect of the pandemic and made adjustments.
Sophie Balisky, a volunteer through Silver Linings, says the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for former behaviours relating to her eating disorder.
“I considered myself to be fully recovered for a good two years, and then this whole catastrophe began in March, and my eating disorder was knocking at the door again.”
Colleen Hauck, Silver Lining’s executive director, says that it may be easy for those with eating disorders to take a step back on their road to recovery due to the isolating factors of physical and social distancing.
She adds that the sudden shift to online was a challenge.
“Traditionally, eating disorders are a very isolating illness, and it’s a difficult illness for people to navigate, so coming together and being part of that group is a critical piece. We wanted to make sure we weren’t cancelling everything, so we had to act fast and shift our support groups to an online format.”
Online support groups
Silver Linings offers eight-week support groups for adults and adolescents dealing with eating disorders — this is done primarily through Zoom meetings.
In the short term, things will continue in an online focused situation, according to Hauck. Silver Linings has implemented Zoom drop-in sessions that give instant access to those that need support. As restrictions continue to lift, this situation may change.
Hauck says increased online usage is not perfect for everyone though, and social media and internet use has become something to keep in mind as the pandemic continues.
“For some people, [the internet] really is an all-consuming platform. You can get online on your social feeds, and before you know it, you’ve been pulled along and clicking links, and hours have gone by.”
For those on the road to recovery from eating disorders, Hauck says this can be a difficult piece.
“What we know is that recovery is not a straight line, even during pandemic times. Recovery is a lot of work for people, and we all slip. We’re humans. And that is okay. I think acknowledging that these are extraordinarily difficult times for people is important.”
Balisky said when she felt those eating disorder behaviours creeping back, thinking and reflecting on the challenges and uncertainties in her own life helped remedy it.
Balisky took those thoughts and developed a three-part blog series, relating to navigating the challenges of the pandemic on those with eating disorders. The blogs were split into categories, including food and exercise, isolation and loneliness and uncertainty and lack of control.
Balisky, who has volunteered with Silver Linings since 2018, said the experience of writing this blog has been a tremendous one.
“I thought to myself, if I’m feeling these feelings, there has to be other people that are feeling the exact same way. I have to be open and honest and talk about my mental health. It is a concern, and I think there is a lot of power in being completely open, people can take strength out of that.”
In one of her posts, Balisky said it’s important to reach out because of the dangers of isolation. She said a big part of staying connected was having FaceTime dates and phone calls with friends and family to keep her thoughts positive.
Both Balisky and Hauck encourage those struggling to speak out, whether that is through conversations with friends, family or reaching out to organizations like Silver Linings for resources.
“There is not a lot of resources,” Balisky said. “I was lucky to find a therapist who specializes in eating disorders, and be able to get in to see her right away. I can’t think of other places like Silver Linings that specialize in eating disorders.”