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Studies examine eating disorder impacts and risk factors associated with COVID-19

A person gazes down at their phone and laptop. Media consumption and a rise in online diet culture impacted the experience of people with eating disorders. // Illustration by Tesla Kawakami

This story expands on an article about how COVID-19 has had a significant effect on individuals with eating disorders. Read the main story here.

Content Warning: This article contains language that may be triggering or traumatizing to some readers. CW: Eating disorders

In the past year, several studies have been conducted to examine the pandemic’s effect on people with eating disorders.

One study, The impact of the COVID‐19 pandemic on eating disorder risk and symptoms, published in June of 2020, outlined the reason as to why the COVID-19 pandemic would have a profound effect on individuals with an eating disorder. 

The study was published about three months after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, causing governments and institutions to place strict quarantine, travel and socialization rules in place. 

The study outlines three “pathways” that have allowed the pandemic to affect people who have eating disorders. 

Disruption to daily life

The first pathway listed was the disruption to daily life. As work and school shifted to the home environment, the way people ate, slept, and kept active changed. The study mentions the removal of “clear routines and markers of time and space” as a driving factor in this disruption. 

The study’s first pathway also mentioned the anxieties associated with grocery shopping. The study noted that for people with eating disorders, the stress of grocery shopping during a pandemic can cause the individual to want to “stock up”, which can lead to worsened symptoms of binge-eating disorder. 

Effect of Media

The second pathway listed was media consumption, a risk factor mentioned by Ciao, Duvall and Severson. The exposure to traumatic and chaotic world events can cause people with eating disorders to have worsened symptoms. In addition to this, increased social media consumption can lead to a greater dissatisfaction in one’s body or lifestyle. 

Similar to the Zoom anxieties that Ciao mentioned, the study also noted that the increase in video conferencing also has the potential for causing negative impacts on eating disorder behaviors. As education and workplaces moved online, there became a risk that people would become hyper focused on their appearance, especially  when it came to video conferencing. According to the study, this idea of ‘looking in the mirror repeatedly’ can contribute to the risk of eating disorder symptoms. 

Fear of Contagion

The third pathway the study mentioned was fear surrounding the virus. Anxieties about COVID-19 have had an impact on diet culture — as such, people with eating disorders have a higher likelihood to engage in restrictive eating habits. 

The study notes that people with eating disorders may engage in dieting behaviors that are indicative of orthorexia nervosa. Orthorexia is different from other eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, and is defined by overly-restrictive dieting due to health concerns or worries over food quality. Anxieties around the pandemic may cause individuals to engage in this behavior and pursue diets that are believed to benefit the immune system or lessen the symptoms of COVID-19. 

Liz McLane

Liz McLane is a fourth-year student studying journalism with a minor in Salish Sea studies. She enjoys the color green and good naps. You can find her on Instagram here, Twitter here and over email at

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