Please note that this is an Archived article and may contain content that is out of date. The use of she/her/hers pronouns in some articles is not intended to be exclusionary. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.
By Quinn Nystrom, MS
Three years ago, we started to hear about a thing called COVID-19. What was it? Was it going to hit the states? Is it as bad as they’re reporting? March hit, and we were in complete lock-down in Minnesota. I remembered my fear, anxiety, and questions of “what if” popped up. I remember being scared to leave my apartment. Doors shuttered everywhere, including many mental health facilities.
I read a fascinating article that was published in The International Journal of Eating Disorders: The impact of the COVID‐19 pandemic on eating disorder risk and symptoms – PMC (nih.gov)
“The current COVID‐19 pandemic has created a global context likely to increase eating disorder (ED) risk and symptoms, decrease factors that protect against EDs, and exacerbate barriers to care.”
These were their primary reasons:
1. Disruption of your daily schedule. Negative impacts on eating, exercise, and sleeping patterns, which may, in turn, increase ED risk and symptoms. Relatedly, the pandemic and accompanying social restrictions may deprive individuals of social support and adaptive coping strategies, potentially elevating ED risk and symptoms by removing protective factors.
2. Increased exposure to ED‐specific or anxiety‐provoking media and reliance on video conferencing may increase ED risk and symptoms.
3. Fears of contagion may increase ED symptoms specifically related to health concerns or by pursuing restrictive diets focused on increasing immunity. In addition, elevated rates of stress and negative affect due to the pandemic and social isolation may also contribute to increased risk.
Even for people who don’t struggle with a mental illness, we saw during the pandemic, anxiety, depression, and addiction all increased. Access to care was scarce. It was a scary time and continues to be challenging for many.
I’ll never forget a dear friend calling me to tell me that her son had committed suicide. He had been attending outpatient treatment, and when COVID hit, the doors closed, and he was left to fend for himself. He tragically ended his life. The heartbreak of this mother losing her only son was devastating. His whole family, friends, and young daughter. The frustration and the anger of the what-ifs. So many lives have been lost, and many people were/are falling into despair with their eating disorders.
Candidly, I relapsed from bulimia early in the pandemic. I had to check myself back into treatment to regain my footing. I don’t know where I’d be today if I couldn’t access that. That’s the challenging part about eating disorders. When people ask me if I’m “recovered” from an eating disorder, I always say,
“No, I’m not. I have to make a conscious decision daily to choose recovery.” I have type 1 diabetes with no foreseeable cure, one of the biggest triggers for my eating disorder. I must continue to learn how to have those two diseases co-exist.
Keep prioritizing your emotional and physical health.
Know that I’m cheering for you from Minnesota.