COVID-19 Quarantine & Eating Disorders – A Dangerous Combination

Woman with body image

Of the impact of COVID-19, Deputy-Secretary-General of the UN Amina J. Mohammed has stated, “we are facing a human crisis unlike any we have experienced…(our) social fabric and cohesion is under stress [1].”

This continues to be true, as the devastating impacts of COVID-19 rage through the population and quarantine measures once again go into effect around the world. Humans are social beings whose mental health is strongly impacted by those they surround themselves with and how often they engage with others.

Impact of COVID-19 on Disordered Eating

Picking up healthy coping hobbies can help with eating disorder during COVID-19Quarantine has led a third of the world’s population to engage in lockdown behaviors, increasing feelings of isolation, and worsening mental well-being [2].

This has led to an increase in disordered eating behaviors and eating disorder diagnoses. The reasoning behind this increase in eating disorders is understandable when one considers some of the factors associated with the disorders.

For example, the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic is causing increased stress for many, and studies find that “the majority of people tend to change their eating behavior when they feel stressed, with about 80% of them altering their caloric intake by either increasing or decreasing their consumption [2].

Additionally, the boredom that is created in quarantine makes individuals more vulnerable to any number of dangerous and excessive behaviors. Research indicates that “normal weight and overweight people reported eating more when they were lonely or bored [2].”

Not only that, with the isolation factor of quarantine and social distancing, these unhelpful or risky behaviors are more likely to go unchecked, as individuals encounter very few others. Many individuals also tend to use food and exercise as a coping strategy for uncomfortable emotion-states.

While this can be helpful in some ways, such as engaging in yoga or running in order to decrease anxiety, this can also become a liability and create or perpetuate disordered eating and exercise beliefs. All of these factors combined put many at-risk for developing or relapsing into an eating disorder.

This is concerning for those working in the treatment community, as it is likely that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine measures will continue even after a vaccine is developed and distributed.

Coping Strategies

It is likely that many of you reading are nodding your heads and feeling very connected to some of these factors. If that is the case, it is important to utilize coping skills that foster opposite feelings while maintaining your safety.

For example, if you are struggling with isolation and feeling an urge to withdrawal due to depression, reach out to family and friends. This can be for weekly catch-up sessions, group activities and games over technology, etc. Many creative socializing methods have come out of these circumstances. Ask your support system to help you use these more.

Engage in hobbies with an awareness of your motivations for the activity and their impact on your mental and physical health. If you find yourself running every time you feel bored, this may be excessive or become a liability to recovery and health. Consider taking up a new hobby that you can also engage in during those moments of boredom.

Finally, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. More people than ever are utilizing therapy services, which can help you improve your mental health, talk through the challenges of this season of life, and keep you accountable for effective and healthy coping skills.

History has had many difficult times, and they have not lasted forever. This season will not be forever, either. Hold onto hope and do your best to take care of yourself.


Resources:

[1] Alessi, C. (2020). “All hands should be on deck:” key quotes from leaders on the fight against COVID-19. World Economic Forum. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/covid-19-action-call-8-apr/.

[2] Haddad, C., et al. (2020). Association between eating behavior and quarantine/confinement stressors during the coronavirus disease 2019 outbreak. Journal of Eating Disorders, 8:40.


About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published November 27, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on November 27, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.