Coronavirus Chronicles — The Curse of Uncertainty

Rightly or wrongly, like it or not, Americans feel free to choose the degree of isolation they are willing to endure — ranging from totally staying at home, to flouting every suggestion about how to stop the virus from spreading, and even deliberately coughing on the food in stores, and on other people. On May 26, the U.S. reported almost 2,000 more cases of COVID-19 than the previous day’s total.

Some adults can afford to opt for the maximum degree of self-quarantine, and it suits them perfectly. It might be their long-awaited opportunity to read a stack of books, or to write one. But when children are involved, staying home can be a nightmare. One aspect of that dystopia is the extra burden imposed in adults who must not only manage their own neuroses and disorders, but strive to avoid handing down the weirdness to any children under their care.

It is a truism that a person can tolerate just about anything, if they know how long it will last. But we just don’t know the end point. It’s time to co-opt an expression that meant something different to mystics in the Middle Ages, because the phrase is perfect to describe the situation that responsible adults find themselves in today. We have entered the cloud of unknowing.

The cloud of unknowing

For how long do we need to stretch these paltry dollars in the savings account? Will there ever be another job? Aunt Phoebe arrived for an unannounced visit, and while we may be able, just barely, to put up with her for a week, what if strict new public-safety rules are passed, and she can’t rent a car or get on a plane, and we’re stuck with her indefinitely? Teaching the kids at home was doable for a couple of months, but what if schools can’t reopen in the fall? Will it be possible to address the math requirements while avoiding an actual murder? How long can the stash of canned goods in the pantry be made to last?

The rationalization of rationing

In one respect, it is more stressful to have a small stockpile that must suffice for an unknown period than to literally be out of food. If you’re down to a bowl of rice per day, and beans every other day, and the kids know there are still several cans of beans left, how do you stick to rationing? There is a temptation to throw caution to the winds and just eat everything. Bring on the worst-case scenario. Because then, at least, you know the score.

An uncredited writer for The Emily Program, whose mission is recovery support, points out that while no two people have quite the same eating disorder (ED), they all have certain things in common.

The master manipulator it is, your eating disorder can mold any situation into a reason to use ED behaviors. Your disorder may be using this opportunity to elbow its way back into your life. Capitalizing on uncertainty and fear is its signature trick, one it does insidiously and incessantly.

These are some of the things that a person’s eating disorder is apt to whisper into a vulnerable ear:

“No school, no work? Well, this quarantine is your chance to lose weight!”
“Soon there will be no food left. You better eat all of this now. . .”
“You know, no one will blame you for relapsing during this.”
“Look around — I’m the only one here when things get rough.”
“This is a hard time. No big deal if you restrict, binge, or purge. Why don’t you ‘relax’ for a bit? You can get back to recovery once this thing passes over.”

Journalist Gabby Landsverk obtained this quotation from licensed clinical social worker and body image therapist Sarah Herstich:

This is uncharted territory for all of us. If people find themselves restricting, hoarding, or bingeing, my hope is that they don’t judge themselves, but they ask themselves what they might need to care for themselves.

Landsverk emphasizes the importance of staying in touch with friends, family, and if necessary, medical professionals:

The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) offers many resources for people to connect with virtual support, as well as a map of treatment centers across the US. Many dietitians are now offering meal support, chats, and support groups online via live streaming or other virtual platforms. National Eating Disorders Association Helpline is (800) 931-2237.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Advice for those struggling with an eating disorder during COVID-19,”, 03/26/20
Source: “Coronavirus anxiety and quarantining could increase eating disorder risk. Here’s what to look out for,”, 03/23/20
Image by Alan Levine

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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