Coronavirus Chronicles — Stuck at Home Inside Your Head

We saw how a person’s eating disorder will take advantage of the current unrest, and seize every opportunity to barge back into their life and create havoc. For many people, their eating disorder functions just like an addiction to alcohol, hard drugs, or gambling. No matter how threatening it might be to their ability to maintain income, relationships, or even life, the addictor comes out on top.

In any week of the year, a certain number of people are released from inpatient rehabilitation facilities. Those who have been released in the past couple of months are turned loose in a world that is even less ready than usual to support them. Marion Renault, writing on “The Heartbreaking Struggle to Stay Sober Under Lockdown,” quotes a man who says, “I’m more afraid of a relapse right now than I am of coronavirus.”

Although an addictive relationship to food might not cause bad consequences as immediate and dramatic as alcoholism, it is a killer nonetheless, and deserves to be taken seriously. A contemporary comedian (apologies for not making a note of this entertainer’s name) has a joke that goes approximately this: “I just don’t get the concept of an intervention. Why would I want to sit down and listen to the same people who caused me to start drinking in the first place?”

Why indeed? But with a deadly disease raging outside, vulnerable people are trapped inside with company that is very harmful to their mental health and sobriety.

Not recommended

For someone struggling against substance abuse isolation and boredom are very hazardous conditions. By picking up their old, destructive habits, addicts are apt to feel a totally illusory and deceptive sense of control, which is an irrational paradox and an example of stinkin’ thinkin’.

In the recovery world, face-to-face support is the gold standard. Belief in the efficacy of 12-step meetings is so strong, judges order people to attend X number of meetings within Y amount of time or else go to jail. And now, we are forbidden to gather in person. A sponsor who would normally be willing to answer a 2 AM call and get together for coffee and discussion is not supposed to do that any more. In the hard-drug realm, where people are required to show up in person to submit urine samples and collect their daily meds, extraordinary measures have needed to be instituted.

For many people, the potential for relapse is dangerously present, and all they have to hold onto is the tenuous connection of telemental health. As Renault writes,

Still, many of the new or modified options are unavailable to the most vulnerable populations with substance use disorder — those not in treatment, people experiencing homelessness, anyone in the estimated 18 million American households lacking high-speed internet at home or through a mobile phone.

When both patient and therapist are forced to be in close quarters with their own families, even if both parties have the correct equipment, neither has the complete expectation of privacy. After the disclosures from Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers, no one is able to rest easy in the belief that their phone calls or video conferences are confidential.

Avoiding the contagion is a matter of life or death — but so is recovery. And again, that is equally true for the people whose problem substance is food, and whose intractable habit is eating. A person whose problem is eating might not fall off a balcony or collapse with a needle protruding from the crook of their elbow, or wind up in the drunk tank at the local jail. The consequences may not be as obviously dramatic or cinematic, but they are just as seriously real.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Heartbreaking Struggle to Stay Sober Under Lockdown,”, 04/19/20
Image by Penn Libraries/CC BY 2.0

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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.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


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.

Food & Health Resources