Eating Disorders

Is Your Eating Disorder Back? Covid Might Be Partly to Blame

Why Covid triggered a 87 percent increase in eating disorder symptoms.

Posted Sep 21, 2020

Image by 7sentidos on iStock
Source: Image by 7sentidos on iStock

Covid has been difficult all the way around but particularly for those struggling with eating disorders.  

A new study from Northumbria University found that that 87 percent of people with past or current eating disorders reported that their symptoms are “worse” (one-third say “much worse”) since quarantine began*.  Similarly, The National Eating Disorders Association reported a 78 percent increase in calls to their hotline and online chats compared to a year ago.

Why? There are so many reasons.  

One of the biggest reasons—eating disorders thrive in isolation. This is one reason why so many health professionals have seen a dramatic increase in people seeking help during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.  People are cut off from their daily social support that is key to recovery.  Also, 45 percent of respondents to the International Journal of Eating Disorders study indicated they were suddenly left without care, cut off during the pandemic. 

Also, eating disorders are highly triggered by stress and anxiety as well as the threat of food scarcity and stockpiling food—all behaviors that skyrocket universally.  Not to mention that the instability of the world and uncertainty can be traumatic and feel out of control.

Interestingly, Zoom visits and FaceTime also increased body insecurity.  These tools require people to look directly at themselves for extended periods of time, which heightens body anxiety and obsessiveness.  Even people who were not previously diagnosed with an eating disorder reported a surge of emotional and stress eating, binge eating, and loss of appetite due to anxiety.  

Unfortunately some of the "cultural messaging" on social media during the pandemic was another trigger of eating disorder behavior such as the addition of the term ”Quarantine 15," which is a play on the “freshman 15” referring to the 15 pounds that students are stereotypically reputed to gain during their first year of college. For people with eating disorders, this term triggered a lot of fear and anxiety.  Social media was inundated with posts emphasizing using the time at home to work out and get in shape. 

If you or someone you know have had a reoccurrence of symptoms, it's okay and understandable.  Here are some tips to help you during the pandemic.  


  • If you know someone who has struggled with an eating disorder in the past, check on them. Inquire gently how they are doing. Just reaching out can go a long way.
  • Stop using triggering words such as the “Quarantine 15” and use healthier terms like “mindful eating.”  Be a good role model for healthy eating!  
  • You can even schedule a FaceTime or Zoom during meal times to help reduce isolation and provide support for your friend or family member who struggles with their eating.  
  • If you have noticed changes in your own eating (thinking a lot about food, stress eating, binge eating, restricting) be sure to check in with a health care professional for a screening.  Remember that you can do this through telehealth visits.  
  • Be mindful of your social media. It’s okay to unfollow accounts that make you feel bad about your body or eating. Follow people and professionals that promote health and self-care.  
  • Remember that eating disorders have the second-highest mortality rate of any psychiatric diagnosis. Only opioid use disorder is ranked higher.  Therefore, getting into or back to treatment is key.



For more information, see Dr. Albers' tips on mindful eating: