The Impact of COVID-19 on Eating Disorders
COVID-19 has impacted many areas in our lives that have changed the way we live our daily lives and interact with one another. This pandemic has affected our physical, financial, emotional and mental state. Some studies have shown that individuals with eating disorders (ED) have been faced with new challenges that make it more difficult to adapt to this new way of life. Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses with physical manifestations (NEDIC, 2019). While several factors can contribute to the development of ED, it is treatable.
How has COVID-19 impacted ED?
Since the pandemic, our regular routines have been disrupted. Some people with ED found their rigid routines to be coping mechanisms for their symptoms and distress. Disruptions to these routines and additional limitations to outdoor activities can increase concerns about shape and weight that have a negative impact on food, exercise, and sleeping habits, thus raising the risk and symptoms of ED.
Social distancing measures have restricted us from meeting our friends and loved ones. Social support has been a resilience factor during stressful periods and plays a vital role in managing and reducing disordered eating (Leonidas & Santos, 2014). The increase of social restrictions makes it a barrier to have social support, thus making individuals more vulnerable to being isolated and lonely. Likewise, other activities that support emotional regulation, such as visiting a therapist or enjoying certain activities, may be less accessible. Instead, people may turn to less adaptive emotional regulation strategies, including emotionally‐induced eating or restrictive eating, to rely upon (Lobera et al., 2009).
Since the start of the pandemic, there has been an increased use of the media for communication. Social media has significantly been associated with an increased risk of disordered eating through exposure to slim-ideal content related to diet culture and food advertisements. Also, jokes about weight gain during quarantine and greater exposure to home cooking and social media "pandemic recipes" can trigger additional pressure by raising attention to weight and diet, which may increase ED risk and symptoms (Rodgers et al., 2020). Increased reliance on video conferencing may increase ED symptoms by heightening focus on an individual’s faces and appearance (Rodgers et al., 2020).
Lastly, coronavirus has inflicted many fears for people and has resulted in particular eating and food-specific anxieties (Davis et al., 2020). The fear of contagion can increase the risk of disordered eating patterns through fear of leaving the house to purchase foods or eliminate certain foods or food groups due to fear of contamination (Rodgers et al., 2020). Consequently, the pandemic has inflicted greater stress and emotional distress, which can lead to emotional eating as a coping mechanism and can be a key risk for disordered eating (Brooks et al., 2020).
Overall, coronavirus has influenced eating disorder risk and symptoms. It should be noted that the effects of the pandemic on eating disorders are an ongoing study. Evaluating and assessing ED risk factors is crucial to understand the pandemic’s impact on ED risk and recovery.
What can we do about it?
Eating disorders are serious illnesses that can be treatable. If you experience difficulties with food, weight, or body image that causes distress, it is important to seek support. There are many ways to seek help, including professionals, counsellors, therapists, and support groups that can assist you in your recovery journey.
Eating disorders can be a difficult topic to discuss openly. It might not be easy, or you might not know where to start, but rest assured there are support and things you can do to recover. Recovery is possible, and every individual deserves help. If you know a person with an eating disorder, some tips that can help them is for you to understand them, be informed, compassionate, encouraging, non-judgemental and patient.
In light of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, DHNUS will be hosting events that we welcome you to join throughout the week. DHNUS believes that making resources available to those who may need help is crucial on university campuses. DHNUS aims to spark conversation, raise awareness about eating disorders in university students, and share available resources to get help. We want to remind you that you are not alone, and we are here to support you in this journey.
If you or someone you know may be suffering from an Eating Disorder, recovery IS possible.
Emergency Resources: https://mcgill.ca/wellness-hub/urgent-care
On-Campus Resources: https://mcgill.ca/wellness-hub/decision-tree-which-campus
Off-Campus and Online Support: https://mcgill.ca/.../get-support/campus-and-online-support
SSMU Eating Disorder Support Centre: https://ssmu.ca/resources/eating-disorders/…
The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) offers information, resources, referrals, phone support and a helpline. The helpline is available Monday to Friday, from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM, at 1-866-633-4220.
A message from the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC)*:
For those living with Eating Disorders:
Recovery IS possible
• You don’t need to do this on your own
• You are not your body, emotions, thoughts, and behaviours. You can learn how to relate to them, so you don’t have to escape them
• Getting help takes courage, and you need a lot of support – take one step at a time
• Keep searching for treatment providers who understand the illness and are a good fit for you or your child or loved one
• Treatment is the biggest gift you can give yourself, AND you deserve to be well.
Brooks, S. K., Webster, R. K., Smith, L. E., Woodland, L., Wessely, S., Greenberg, N., & Rubin, G. J. (2020). The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. The Lancet, 395(10227), 912–920. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(20)30460-8
Davis, C., Ng, K. C., Oh, J. Y., Baeg, A., Rajasegaran, K., & Chew, C. S. E. (2020). Caring for Children and Adolescents With Eating Disorders in the Current Coronavirus 19 Pandemic: A Singapore Perspective. Journal of Adolescent Health, 67(1), 131–134. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2020.03.037
Leonidas, C., & Santos, M. (2014). Social support networks and eating disorders: an integrative review of the literature. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, (10), 915. https://doi.org/10.2147/ndt.s60735
Lobera, I. J., Estébanez, S., Fernández, M. J. S., Bautista, E. Á., & Garrido, O. (2009). Coping strategies in eating disorders. European Eating Disorders Review, 17(3), 220–226. https://doi.org/10.1002/erv.920
NEDIC. (2019). General Information. Nedic.ca. https://nedic.ca/general-information/
Rodgers, R. F., Lombardo, C., Cerolini, S., Franko, D. L., Omori, M., Fuller‐Tyszkiewicz, M., Linardon, J., Courtet, P., & Guillaume, S. (2020). The impact of the COVID ‐19 pandemic on eating disorder risk and symptoms. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 53(7), 1166–1170. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.23318