Pandemic stress contributes to disordered eating

Key points to remember

  • The stress of COVID-19, schedule changes, and financial challenges have led people to increasingly engage in eating disorders.
  • In a new study, researchers found that people were increasingly turning to food and diet as coping mechanisms during the pandemic.
  • There are ways to treat and manage eating disorders and an individual’s relationship to food.

The psychological distress, stress, financial hardship, and schedule changes that many experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic can lead to eating disorders.

In a new study, researchers have found that stress, stress management, depressive symptoms and extreme financial hardship are increasingly leading people to eat as a form of coping during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the stressors, money problems seemed to be the main motivation for using food as a coping mechanism. The March study was published in The International Journal of Eating Disorders.

“This study highlights the role that stress, as well as changes in our social situations, our home life and our professional and professional life, play in our decision to eat,” Sarah Anzlovar, MS, RDN, LDN, a Boston-based dietitian and owner of Sarah Gold Nutrition, says Verywell. Anzlovar was not included in the study. “The results of this study are consistent with what I have seen with clients in my private practice over the past year. There has been a major increase in messy eating behaviors, whether it’s using food as a way to cope with stress and overwhelming or restraining further as a way to gain a sense of control.

What is a messy diet?

When a person experiences continuous and potentially dangerous disturbances in their eating behaviors, they can suffer from an eating disorder.

Types of eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia nervosa (severe calorie restriction)
  • Bulimia nervosa (purging after eating)
  • Binge eating disorder (eating large amounts of food in a short period of time)
  • Avoiding restrictive eating disorder (avoiding certain foods that can cause health problems)
  • Other specified eating disorder and eating disorder
  • Pica (eating foods with no nutritional value, such as clay)
  • Rumination disorder (bringing undigested food back from the stomach and restoring it)

Eating disorders affect up to 5% of the population. The long-term nutritional consequences of experiencing an eating disorder include nutritional deficiencies in the diet, heart disease, and, in extreme cases, death. Psychologically, eating disorders can affect a person’s well-being.

COVID-19 has led to an increase in eating disorders

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about drastic changes in people’s daily lives and in some cases has had negative effects on their income and social relationships. In turn, stress and uncertainty have become widespread.

Because the added stress and uncertainty has already been linked to messy eating, researchers have estimated that COVID-19 may cause some people to develop an eating disorder.

To determine if this was the case, researchers from the University of Minnesota School of Medicine and the School of Public Health interviewed 720 young adults, around the age of 24, in April and May 2020. Psychological distress , stress, stress management, financial difficulties, and food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as eating disorders were assessed.

Ultimately, the researchers discovered six factors that led to changes in eating behavior:

  • Eat and snack without thinking
  • Increased food consumption
  • Generalized decrease in appetite or food intake
  • Eat to cope
  • Food intake reductions linked to the pandemic
  • Re-emergence or marked increase in symptoms of eating disorders

These factors were associated with less stress management, more depressive symptoms, and financial difficulties. Conversely, stress management has helped reduce the use of diet as a form of coping.

“This study reminds us that what we eat and the way we eat is incredibly linked to our mental health and our life situation, which is why it is important to address the underlying reasons for these eating behaviors. , rather than dressing them with another regimen. or meal plan, ”says Anzolvar.

How to deal with eating disorders

The weight and stress of the pandemic can worsen any strained relationships you may already have with food and diet. Or it could potentially lead to the development of an eating disorder.

If you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder as a result of the pandemic, experts are sharing a few ways to tackle this challenge.

Show yourself thanks

Anzolvar says that “it’s important to recognize that the past year (or more) has been extremely difficult for everyone and has brought about a unique set of circumstances such as social isolation, financial hardship, food insecurity, anxiety for health, increased demands on home life. , and more. ”Therefore, she advises you to show yourself some grace if stress has had an impact on your eating habits in the past year.

Lainey Younkin, MS, RD, LDN, a Boston-based weight loss dietitian Nutrition by Lainey Younkin, tells Verywell that “restricting food leads to overeating, so don’t label any food as prohibited.” She advises setting up an environment for success by not filling your freezer with ice cream or loading your pantry with unhealthy chips. However, she adds that “if you do decide to eat a whole pint of ice cream, you are not a bad person. Think about it, decide if it made you feel better, and move on, deciding how you will fare the next time you’re upset. ”

Manage stress and sleep

If stress is the primary driver of restriction, binge eating, or thoughtless eating, “learning other coping mechanisms to deal with stress is incredibly helpful,” says Anzolar. .

Younkin also adds that sleep should be a priority. “Lack of sleep leads to an increase in ghrelin, the hormone that tells you you’re hungry,” Younkin says. “Plus, no one wants to train when they’re tired. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night and set up systems to help you, like charging your phone outside your bedroom and not looking at screens 1-2 hours before bed. ”

Ask for help

Anzolvar warns that “If depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues are the root of messy eating behavior, working with a licensed therapist is often the best way to overcome these challenges. She also adds that seeking help from an eating disorder dietitian can be helpful in rebuilding a healthy relationship with food.

“If you know someone who is struggling financially, bring them a meal or help them connect to a food aid program in your area,” she adds. “We often forget that financial insecurity and food insecurity can be a major contributor to disorderly eating behaviors – both undernourishment and binge eating.”

If you’re struggling to eat during the pandemic, being proactive with your health and seeking help may be one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health.

The information in this article is current as of the date shown, which means more recent information may be available as you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.



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