The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated eating disorders across the globe. This week’s blog post will highlight some of the challenges people who struggle with disordered eating have faced during COVID-19 by examining research from Italy, France, and the U.K.
A study completed in Florence, Italy, explored difficulties experienced by those with eating disorders in terms of receiving continuous help and support during the pandemic. Authors evaluated a group of people with eating disorders and compared them to healthy individuals to examine how the lockdown period may have impacted their eating behaviors. Surveys were distributed mid-April (during the lockdown period) and again in the beginning of May (end of the lockdown period). Compared with healthy individuals, authors found higher numbers of binge eating episodes and exercise sessions among eating disorder patients. Additionally, results indicated that many individuals with eating disorders did not receive adequate treatment during the lockdown. Because of the switch to virtual treatment sessions, many participants claimed they struggled to adapt to a new treatment setting. It is important to note that some subjects who participated in virtual treatment had no change in their stress levels or level of disordered eating at the time of this study (Castellini et al., 2020).
Research completed in the U.K. also observed the impact of social distancing and lockdowns among participants who have diagnosed eating disorders. Survey responses pointed to four main categories that were negatively impacting participant’s eating patterns: 1) isolation, 2) rumination, anxiety, and depression, 3) media impact, and 4) lack of structure and routine. In addition, authors concluded other “risk factors” that may result in higher prevalence of eating disorders were changes in access to food and lessened access to exercise routines and healthcare services. It was once again concluded that additional supports are needed to support those struggling with disordered eating (McCombie et al., 2020).
Obviously, the pandemic has posed many challenges for all of us, especially since there are so many unknowns. We still do not know the long terms effects the pandemic will have on those with eating disorders. Thus, those who tend to be more vulnerable to disordered eating might be more likely to have a relapse during social isolation.
The impact of COVID-19 on eating patterns among French undergraduate students has also been examined. Approximately 5,000 students completed surveys within 1 week after lockdown began, and again 15 days later. Similar to other studies, higher levels of stress were observed among these students, as well as increased binge eating episodes and dietary restrictions. Significantly higher numbers of binge eating instances and dietary restrictions were observed in participants identifying as women (Flaudias et al., 2020).
In summary, many are struggling managing their disordered eating during COVID-19. Based on the results of this research, managing stress and binge eating, and lack of social support are common. If you are struggling, or someone in your life is struggling, click here to find some additional strategies that may be supportive.
Castellini, G, Cassioli, E, Rossi, E, et al. The impact of COVID‐19 epidemic on eating
disorders: A longitudinal observation of pre versus post psychopathological features in a
sample of patients with eating disorders and a group of healthy controls. Int J Eat Disord.
2020; 53: 1855– 1862. https://doi-org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/10.1002/eat.23368
Flaudias, V., Iceta, S., Zerhouni, O., Rodgers, R. F., Billieux, J., Llorca, P., Boudesseul, J., de
Chazeron, I., Romo, L., Maurage, P., Samalin, L., Bègue, L., Naassila, M., Brousse, G.,
& Guillaume, S. (2020). COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and problematic eating
behaviors in a student population, Journal of Behavioral Addictions JBA, 9(3), 826-835.
Retrieved Feb 2, 2021, from
McCombie C, Austin A, Dalton B, Lawrence V, Schmidt U. (2020). “Now It’s Just Old Habits
and Misery”- Understanding the Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on People With
Current or Life-Time Eating Disorders: A Qualitative Study. Front Psychiatry,
11:589225. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2020.589225. PMID: 33192736; PMCID: PMC765317