Locks put some eating disorders in crisis

By Cara Murez
HealthDay reporter

FRIDAY March 19, 2021 (HealthDay News) – At the Eating Recovery Center, which offers treatment and services to people eating disorders, intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization programs have gone virtual when the pandemic has begun.

But that didn’t suit the people who were working on their recovery.

“Our patients said, ‘You can’t do that. This is not enough support for us, “” said Ellen Astrachan-Fletcher, certified eating disorder specialist and regional clinical director of the Eating Recovery Center in Chicago. “And within a week, we brought a partial hospitalization back on site because we realized that the risk for them of not receiving treatment on site was worse than the risk for them of going out in public.”

Among those who face fear, isolation and loss during the pandemic, there are people who suffer from eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, according to recent research from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England.

“It is well documented that people with eating disorders control their eating in a negative way because they feel they are in control of this behavior and there are other areas of their lives over which they have no control. control, ”said the study author. Mike Trott, PhD researcher at Anglia Ruskin University.


University researchers reconnected with participants of a 2019 study on body dysmorphia, exercise addiction and eating disorders, to find out how COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 may have had impact on their eating disorders. The 319 participants were health club members with an average age of 37 years.

Participants answered questions in response to the following statements: ‘I am terrified of being overweight’, ‘I have the urge to vomit after meals’ and ‘I feel extremely guilty after eating’ ‘, which are part of the food attitude test, called EAT-26.

EAT-26 scores increased significantly in 2020, after the lockdown, compared to 2019. This suggests higher levels of eating behaviors such as anorexia and bulimia, according to the study authors.

The results were published in the April issue of the journal Psychiatry research.

Social isolation can exacerbate eating disorders

In the UK, locks meant being able to travel only at specific distances from home. “And it’s a whole new stress, a whole new mental stress on the body,” Trott said. “What has been shown in the past is that stress, whatever its form, is accompanied by coping mechanisms that involve food.”


While some stocks got worse, others got better. The study found a reduction in symptoms of exercise addiction after lockout, although individual exercise levels fell from 6.5 hours per week in 2019 to 7.5 hours per week after lockout in 2020 The increase may be due to the fact that people were eager to resume sports activities. after the lockdown, Trott suggested.

Trott said researchers couldn’t be sure the pandemic was responsible for the increase in eating disorder behaviors.

“I think we are far from normal life,” Trott said. “I think with some people it can go back to normal. I think for others it might not. We all treat things differently and for some of us it stays with us.”

Astrachan-Fletcher pointed out that eating disorders can develop in an environment where one is socially isolated for a long time. Warning signs are more difficult to detect virtually.

She noted that body dysmorphic disorder was an issue that the study found did not change during the pandemic.


This could be because people don’t know so many opportunities for social comparison of their bodies. Social comparison contributes greatly to body dysmorphia, she explained.

Returning to situations where there is heightened social anxiety and social comparison could help increase struggles, Astrachan-Fletcher said.

“Being isolated for a year, and I’ve seen this with a lot of people, can even lead to this greater anxiety about leaving home, even though it’s ‘safer’ there because of the vaccines,” he said. said Astrachan-Fletcher. “I absolutely believe that as we start to open up we’re going to see people struggle with this, with increasing rates of anxiety and depression.”

Returning to ‘normal’ life could be difficult

The causes of eating disorders are not known. There is a biological predisposition, a psychological component and a sociological component, Astrachan-Fletcher said.

“We know that puberty certainly contributes, that by the time of puberty sometimes that biological predisposition kicks in,” Astrachan-Fletcher said. “Do we know exactly what causes eating disorders? It’s multifaceted. That’s exactly what we know.”


Even though people lack their support systems, they have also become accustomed to being more isolated and not being seen physically, said Ilene Fishman, a social worker in private practice in New York City who specializes in disorders. food. Fishman is also one of the founders of the National Eating Disorders Association.

“It’s no surprise that we know that eating disorders have worsened for people during COVID,” Fishman said. “Not just eating disorders, but mental health issues in general, people have a harder time during COVID.”

During the pandemic, people saw their reliable schedules and support systems cut short, Fishman said. There are fewer face-to-face relationships, including psychotherapy treatments. Food insecurity at the start of the pandemic may also have been triggered for people with eating disorders, Fishman added.

Often times when people have eating disorders, their lives become smaller, Fishman said. They are not so social. They don’t have dinner with people. They can find excuses to avoid socialization. These can be warning signs, as can signs of depression and anxiety, she said.


One positive result is that everyone is talking more about mental health now, Fishman said, which could reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

“I think that’s a positive thing, because if it’s more standardized, it’s going to be less stigmatized,” Fishman said. “These struggles are real and legitimate and people are suffering, so hopefully there will be less stigma.”

More information

Contact the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237. Call NEDA to 741741 in case of a crisis. The US National Institute of Mental Health has more on eating disorders.

SOURCES: Mike Trott, doctoral candidate and research assistant, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, England; Ellen Astrachan-Fletcher, PhD, Regional Clinical Director, Midwest, Eating Recovery Center, Chicago; Ilene Fishman, LCSW, Co-Founder / Executive Board Member, National Eating Disorders Association, and Psychotherapy Practitioner, New York City; Psychiatry research, April 2021

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