The Term “Quarantine 15” Could Be Fueling Eating Disorders

Woman struggling with Diabulimia

Contributor: Staff at Carolina House

By now, you’ve probably heard of the “Quarantine 15.” The term started out as a joke used to refer to weight gain during the pandemic. But its use has stuck around as the media latched on to it, instilling the fear of gaining an extra 15 pounds to push at-home fitness programs and weight-loss strategies.

Now, experts and those struggling with eating disorders are speaking out against the harmful phrase and the damage it can potentially cause.

A History of Harmful Terms Like “Quarantine 15”

If the term “Quarantine 15” sounds familiar, probably it’s because you’ve heard of the “Freshman 15.” “Freshman 15” is another potentially harmful term used to suggest the weight gain first-year college students might experience with the new freedom and responsibility of feeding themselves.

Eating disorders typically begin between ages 18 and 21, putting college students at especially high risk for developing symptoms [1]. Part of this could be attributed to college being a time of transition, increased stress, and the desire to fit in.

With the pandemic having forced most students to go virtual, they could be even more at risk for developing new or worsened eating disorder symptoms.

Carolina House Banner 468x60


Call for Help 844-485-6232

The switch to online classes forces students to view themselves on a screen more than ever before. Between Zoom meetings and increased time on social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok, the need to look their best is still present, even if in-person interactions are scarce.

“The weird thing about being in a virtual space is that you can see yourself all the time,” university student Cat Torner said. “You know what you look like and what people see of you, so there’s an added pressure to look good even though it’s quarantine” [2].

For many students like Torner, going virtual during the pandemic has also taken away their support system and abilities to take part in activities. Many students moved back home and away from friends, roommates, sports teams, and school clubs. This can cause a sense of isolation that can fuel eating disorder symptoms.

For those who are struggling or in recovery from an eating disorder, structure is incredibly important. With the pandemic uprooting everyone’s regular routine, it can be challenging to maintain a healthy recovery.

The Media Feeding a Fear of Weight Gain

Students and individuals of all ages are facing eating disorder and other mental health concerns during the pandemic. The fear of losing a job, becoming ill, or having a family member get sick have become shared anxieties during the pandemic. There are many vulnerable individuals at home trying to cope with their new normal, with body dysmorphia and other mental health concerns looming in the background.

With gyms closed, stay-at-home orders in place, and extreme amounts of stress surrounding the pandemic, some weight changes are to be expected. However, the term “Quarantine 15” could do more harm than good.

Woman dealing with Quarantine 15Fitness- and weight loss-related marketing strategists have taken advantage of the fears of weight gain during the pandemic, pushing images of thin or muscular people and telling people how they can avoid the “Quarantine 15.”

The idea of joining a fitness community can be tempting for those lacking a social life during the pandemic. Working out can also be extremely beneficial for your physical and mental health, especially during times of stress. But for some, a fear of weight gain and real weight changes can add to an already stressful time in life and trigger obsessive thoughts, working out excessively, and undereating.

Those who are constantly flooded with ads warning of the “Quarantine 15” might find it difficult to push harmful thoughts aside. Seeing ads of bodies that are described as “ideal” and “healthy” can be triggering for those who have eating disorders or body dysmorphia or struggle with self-image.

Avoiding the Harmful Term “Quarantine 15” and Its Effects

There’s no saying how long the term “Quarantine 15” will stick around. While you might not be able to avoid it entirely, there are some things you can do to prevent its potential damage:

  • Try to limit time spent on social media
  • Unfollow accounts and content promoting dieting and weight loss
  • Mark “not interested” in ads or content related to fitness and weight loss
  • Don’t exercise excessively
  • Take a short walk if you feel the urge to get moving
  • Avoid counting calories and tracking weight
  • Take care of your mental health
  • Get extra help if needed

If you are struggling with new or worsening symptoms of eating disorders, overexercising, restricting food intake, or obsessing over your self-image, help is available.


[1] Jacobson, R. Eating disorders and college. Child Mind Institute.

[2] Gibbons, S. (2020, November 5). Terms like the ‘quarantine 15’ are helping drive an influx of new patients to Wisconsin eating disorder clinics. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

About the Sponsor:

Carolina House BannerCarolina House is an eating disorder treatment center that serves people of all genders, ages 17 and older. Within our residential and outpatient programs, we offer a range of services such as LGBTQ- and male-inclusive programming to help individuals who are struggling with eating disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions. Our treatment connects men and women with the care they need to achieve long-term recovery from eating disorders and other mental health concerns.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of 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 on March 8, 2021. Published on
Reviewed & Approved on March 8, 2021, 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.