Eating disorders are complex disorders that affect someone’s physical and mental health. While eating disorders are characterized by someone’s relationship with food, exercise, and body image, these conditions aren’t really about this .
Even though food and body image can provoke someone with an eating disorder to experience a lot of distress, the eating disorder is often a way to cope with unresolved mental health issues . For example, someone may rely on compulsive exercise as a way to deal with untreated anxiety.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant stress for people around the world. One population that is struggling are children and adolescents . There has been a significant increase in eating disorders in this group since the pandemic began .
There are a few reasons why the pandemic may have contributed to an increase in eating disorders. Here are a few ideas as to how COVID-19 and eating disorders may be related:
Increased Stress Leading to Eating Disorders in Kids
The pandemic has been stressful for so many reasons. The impact that a health crisis has on society as a whole is profound. The fact that so many people are dying or are very ill often creates anxiety. This is likely heightened if a friend or family member is showing symptoms of the virus.
Also, many people may have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The economic stress of losing one’s job will impact an entire household. On the other hand, if a child or teen has a parent who works in the medical field or is considered an essential worker, the parent may be significantly more stressed, negatively affecting the parent-child relationship.
Also, social distancing, not seeing friends, going to school, or participating in other activities most likely severely disrupted someone’s routine. This can lead to a significant amount of stress.
To make matters worse, many people feel completely out of control because no one can fix this situation. Eating disorders are often believed to be a way to cope with feelings of powerlessness, as they give someone a sense of control .
Declining Mental Health
Prolonged stress can take a toll on someone’s mental health. In order to stop the spread of the virus, government officials have advised people to socially distance and stay home.
While this is important, it also essentially forces people to isolate themselves. For people dealing with mental health, isolating and not being able to socialize or participate in hobbies or daily routines can make their mental health symptoms worse .
One of the best things for depression is spending time with other people or participating in fun activities which is basically impossible during this time. Consequently, eating disorders may be a way kids and teens are trying to manage their mental health .
More Time on Social Media
Kids and teens are spending more time on social media during the pandemic . This may be an attempt to connect with friends and socialize in a safe way, but it also increases their exposure to social media. Aspects of social media are known to contribute to eating disorders . This is because of the media’s emphasis on body image.
Social media is full of images and messages about being thin, dieting, and what makes someone attractive. Increased exposure to these messages may be contributing to kids and teens developing disordered eating behaviors .
Fortunately, eating disorder treatment is still available during this time. It is important if you or a loved one are showing signs of an eating disorder to reach out for help. These conditions significantly impact someone’s mental and physical health and can be fatal if untreated.
Life is so much better in recovery, and everyone deserves relief from these disorders—especially right now.
References: Costin, C. & Schubert Grabb, G. (2012). 8 keys to recovery from an eating disorder. W.W. Norton & Company.  Clark, M. (2020, December 29). CCP virus pandemic causing rise in eating disorders in children, say child health experts. The Epoch Times. https://www.theepochtimes.com/mkt_app/ccp-virus-pandemic-causing-rise-in-child-eating-disorders-say-child-health-experts_3635986.html  National Eating Disorders Association. (2018). Statistics and research on eating disorders. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders
About the Author:
Samantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.
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 January 31, 2021, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on January 31, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC