In recent decades, eating disorders have been on the rise across the world, affecting the lives of nearly 24 million people in the United States alone, as evidenced by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. While there are many causes of eating disorders, such as stress, low self-esteem and even genetics in some cases, the novel COVID-19 pandemic this past year has proven to be an especially prevalent influence, causing the frequency and intensity of these conditions to increase.
Various types of eating disorders exist, including anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating, all of which involve irregular or unhealthy eating routines. They may prompt an individual to eat more or less than they normally would, disrupting normal eating habits.
Experiencing these symptoms often is more likely to occur when undergoing stress in life. When lacking a strong support system, these conditions only worsen because individuals are left to deal with their anxiety about their food consumption or weight alone. It is for that reason that when people were faced with the isolationist, anxiety-inducing nature of the pandemic, that these conditions skyrocketed.
A study performed in July of 2020 by the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that 32% of its United States participants of whom had experience with eating disorders reported feeling very concerned about a worsening of their condition because of a lack of social support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, 53% reported feeling very concerned about a worsening of their condition because of a lack of structure.
One factor that leads to this is the fact that many people were forced to work from home on a daily basis. Working at home every day meant that people had access to food at any point of the day by simply walking into their kitchen and grabbing something from the cupboard. This easy accessibility to food could lead to sometimes unhealthy eating habits, such as binge-eating or overeating, which is sometimes used as a coping mechanism of stress.
Another factor that contributed to the anxiety surrounding eating disorders during the pandemic was with regards to the accessibility of medical help during this time. The study published by the International Journal found that 45% of U.S. participants who had been receiving care for their eating disorder had to shift to online medical care, or telehealth.
While it is notable that these individuals were still able to receive the care that they needed in some way, telehealth did not provide a one-on-one connection for patients. 40% reported that their medical treatment proved to be somewhat worse than it had been previously, most likely due to the lack of face-to-face, personal connection that is essential to a true support system. In a sense, people were left to fend for themselves without a strong support system because they could no longer obtain in-person medical attention.
In times like these where individuals have a greater tendency of facing anxiety, loneliness or hopelessness, it is important to be aware of the warning signs of eating disorders, for the better of yourself and those around you.
Often, signals of potential eating disorders include dramatic loss or gain of weight, obsessive concern about calories, fat or sugar intake, as well as noticeable skipping of meals. Symptoms can also appear in withdrawal from activities that the person would usually enjoy and mood swings.
If you have concerns about yourself or others around you regarding eating disorders, the National Eating Disorders Association is open for contact by text, phone call or online chat systems, all of which can be accessed at nationaleattingdisorders.org. For immediate aid, they also have a crisis text line that can be used by texting NEDA to 741741.