My eating disorder relapse over the pandemic could have killed me. Why recovery was different this time around

“A new low. I can’t fight the voice that tells me I’m fat, ugly and unworthy. It’s crippling. I’m not OK.”

That was part of my journal entry on April 10, 2020.

That voice belonged to my eating disorder, a mental health issue I thought I’d overcome over 10 years ago when I was first diagnosed with anorexia as a teenager.

Thanks in part to the stress of working in health communications over the pandemic and the isolation of living alone in a basement apartment, the symptoms came roaring back.

I’d been in therapy long enough to recognize the red flags of an eating disorder relapse: sleepless nights, baggy clothes, non-stop shivering, an irregular period and a feeling of impending doom that I couldn’t shake.

If I had continued down this path of self-destruction, I would have likely ended up in an emergency department.

My heart rate has sunk dangerously low in the past, making the risk of heart failure a very real and fatal possibility. Eating disorders have some of the highest mortality rates of all psychiatric disorders, second only to opioid use disorder, due to the high rates of suicide and medical complications.

Fortunately, I had the foresight to seek virtual counselling from a new therapist specializing in eating disorders. Over many months of treatment, I began to shape a different future that didn’t involve never-ending cycles of relapse and recovery.

It’s gruelling work to unlearn decades worth of negative self-beliefs and destructive patterns. My therapist assigned weekly homework that included tracking my mood, keeping daily food records and addressing underlying social anxiety. I needed help from family to help cover the hefty cost of seeing a psychologist, but it was a price worth paying to save my life.

Now that I’m committed to a full recovery, I still think about my eating disorder on a daily basis — but in a much more constructive way. I’ve transitioned my communications career into working full-time as an eating disorder recovery blogger, writer and speaker to help dismantle harmful myths and create a community for other survivors.

I’m often asked in interviews, “What caused your eating disorder relapse over the pandemic?” The better question is what didn’t cause it.

Think back to the early pandemic days. Jokes around the “Quarantine 15” — unwanted weight gain over lockdown — ran rampant online. We poked fun at celebrities’ changing bodies and swapped weight loss tips. YouTuber Chloe Ting’s unrealistic ab workout challenges were some of the top trending videos.

There was also an obsessive focus on productivity and self-improvement, whether by baking sourdough, getting handy with DIY home projects or finally writing that book. A social media post went viral declaring that if you didn’t come out of this quarantine with a new skill, side hustle or more knowledge, then you didn’t lack the time, you lacked the discipline.

It’s not the message individuals with pre-existing or worsening mental illnesses want to hear.

I constantly saw TikToks showing pandemic “glow-ups” — mainly focused on young women changing their appearance drastically, usually through exercise or weight loss. Not only were we expected to emerge post-lockdown with a side hustle and new language under our belt, but we were also expected to undergo a dramatic makeover.

Add in the shortages, hoarding and insecurity around food (only one bag of flour per family!), plus the heightened anxiety around grocery store shopping as we were reminded to only go out when absolutely necessary.

It’s no wonder so many people experienced a worsening relationship with food and body issues.

We’re facing the consequences now with skyrocketing waiting lists for eating disorder treatment. As found in recent data from the Canadian Institute for Health Research, eating disorder hospitalizations for girls aged 10 to 17 in March 2021 were up nearly 60 per cent from before the pandemic.

These are staggering numbers. I can’t help but think of all the individuals who weren’t hospitalized for their eating disorder diagnoses or relapses. We suffered alone. And individuals will continue to suffer if we don’t address all the contributing factors impacting eating disorders.

It’s not as clear cut as toxic TikTok trends or low self-esteem. It’s the ingrained fatphobia that shows up in diet culture, the misconception that thinner is healthier, the medical discrimination that causes Black, Indigenous and other racialized individuals to be less likely to receive an eating disorder diagnosis than their white peers.

Today, eating disorder recovery advocacy is part of my day-to-day work. As one person, I can’t change the systemic barriers to affordable, accessible care for eating disorders. I can only draw attention to the urgency of care for these all-consuming illnesses and share my story.

When my 15-year-old self was diagnosed with anorexia, she felt ashamed, alone and hopeless. The stigma surrounding these commonly misunderstood mental illnesses still exists. The least I can do now is be the voice of hope she never had.

Chloë Grande is an eating disorder recovery blogger, writer and speaker. Find her online at


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