How has the pandemic influenced the risk of developing an eating disorder and its symptoms?

The pandemic and the consequent change of our habits have remarkably influenced the possibility of developing an eating disorder (ED) and have exacerbated the symptoms of those who already suffer from them (Rodgers et al., 2020). Working and academic activities condition our habits, in particular, our physical activity and circadian rhythm. Anxiety derived from the pandemic situation and the suspension of our daily routine can impact our quality of sleep, which is associated with the risk of developing ED. In addition, a decrease in our social and physical contact relates to an increase in feelings of frustration and boredom, which could exacerbate the risks and symptoms linked with eating disorders (Rodgers et al., 2020).

Doing physical activity, study or work, and leisure activities in the same place, without a clear day routine, increases the possibility of developing an eating disorder. The lack of well-defined borders among the different living areas and fixed hours makes it difficult to keep schedules, boundaries, and limits in eating habits too, making it easy to consume more snacks during the day (Rodgers et al., 2020). In addition, organizing meals constantly and being always close to food can lead to developing an eating disorder in those who are at risk or are already familiar with it (Heriseanu et al., 2017). The perception of food shortage and the request to cut displacements from our home, as we experienced during the first months of lockdown, can induce some people to stock up with food and buy lots of snacks. Both these behaviors make nosh-ups more likely to occur (Waters et al., 2001).

The pandemic has negatively influenced the disorder protection factors, i.e., those factors which can prevent or reduce it, such as social support (Leonidas & Dos Santos, 2014; Linville et al., 2012), therapeutic relationship or feeling involved in pleasant activities (Rodgers et al., 2020).

Likewise, social media has an impact on eating disorders, as people are exposed to content related to the beauty ideal of our culture, that is being skinny (Boswell & Kober, 2016; Levine & Murner, 2009; Rodgers & Melioli, 2016). The pandemic has intensified this issue, as people have spent more time on social media due to restrictions.

Moreover, the spread of “pandemic recipes”, about which also media have talked, may have caused even higher pressure on this topic, increasing once more the risk of developing the symptoms of ED (Rodgers et al., 2020). Previous research has proved that intense media exposure to traumatic stressful worldwide events is associated with an increase in eating disorders (Rodgers et al., 2012). In the end, the increase in employing videoconferences could have indirectly influenced the possibility of developing an eating disorder: being always visible during meetings and being able to see our face could have caused an effect similar to that of looking at ourselves in the mirror. Individuals might have paid more attention to their appeal and look, with consequences on the body image perceived by other people (Mills et al., 2018).

Finally, the stress caused by the pandemic could have led to more emotional eating, which is usually characterized by food rich in carbohydrates as a staple diet: the consumption of these nourishments is linked to an eating habit called “binge eating” in those who suffer from ED (Klatzkin et al., 2018).

Author of the article: Marta Matuella

Translation: Arianna Corbetta

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