Study: Pandemic Coping Increases Prevalence of Eating Disorders

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The past year has wreaked havoc on the entire human race. For the first time since almost all of us have been alive, every person on the planet is dealing with something similar at the same time. That “something” is the COVID-19 pandemic, and its emergence has forced all of us to adjust the way that we live down to foundational levels. Things that we took for granted for our entire lives are no longer available to us, and for many of us that reality setting in is quite upsetting. When we are forced to radically and immediately adjust the very way in which we live, it tends to prompt coping. It seems that pandemic coping has led to several different psychological phenomena, and a new study shows that the prevalence of eating disorders is likely one of them.

SoCal Empowered is an Orange County mental health facility that helps people deal with all sorts of different challenges on an inpatient basis. Eating disorders are something we’re very familiar with, and we have seen a rise in the number of people who, due to pandemic coping or not, have found themselves in an ongoing battle against food. We’re going to delve into the results of this pandemic eating disorder study below, but if you’re concerned that you may be facing this difficult challenge, please contact us as soon as possible.

About the Pandemic Coping Study

The study was done by researchers at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in Cambridge, England, and published in the journal Psychiatry Research. The basis of the study itself was somewhat fortuitous, in that obviously no one could have foreseen the extent of the pandemic before it began to take hold. As such, these researchers began to study 319 health club members in 2019, before COVID-19, with the intent of looking into a series of potentially unhealthy behaviors. Given what occurred, the team followed up on these people 14 months later to see if any behavioral problems associated with pandemic coping were arising as a result of the lockdown.

The average age of the subjects was 37, and 84 percent of them were female. Each of them completed what is known as the Eating Attitudes Test, commonly known in the scientific community as EAT-26. The test asks questions in response to statements that include:

  • I feel very guilty after I eat.
  • I am terrified of becoming overweight.
  • I have the urge to vomit after I eat meals.

The obvious implication of these questions is that if people respond to them in a positive sense, then it’s more likely than not that they are dealing with some sort of eating disorder. There were also questions related to the amount of exercise the subjects completed on an hourly basis, given that the study originated with health club members. Some of the findings were as follows:

  • The average EAT-26 scores had increased significantly, indicating that the subjects were engaging in unhealthy eating behaviors that could include anorexia and bulimia.
  • Exercise time per subject increased by approximately one hour per week.
  • Interestingly, indications were that compulsive exercise rates were significantly lower the second time around.

The researchers concluded that, “If future lockdowns are enforced, practitioners working with people with suspected morbid eating habits should monitor this closely.”

We’ll discuss the findings below.

Pandemic Coping – What the Study Means

These are interesting findings to say the least. While people were engaging in eating behaviors that were seen by researchers as significantly less healthy overall, they also tended to deal with a lower level of compulsive exercise despite exercising more every week. That said, it’s clear that pandemic coping includes challenges associated with eating as people are or were locked down and more isolated in nature.

This goes back to our original discussion point, in that when our lives are suddenly turned upside-down, we encounter a lot of stress. Stress leads to coping behaviors, and one of the most common involves the way in which we eat. Some of us will take to enjoying comfort foods and wind up consuming too many calories and unhealthy foods for our systems to handle, while others find themselves on the other end of the spectrum.

We all obviously hope that there are no more worldwide lockdowns at any point in our collective future, but these types of findings could prove to be quite helpful if such an event should arise again. That’s because this has been the first opportunity for researchers to collect this type of data in a real-world setting instead of with artificial variables in place in accordance with a study.

How SoCal Empowered Can Help

While pandemic coping that’s led to eating disorders is a troubling thing to contemplate in terms of potential numbers, we should all take a step back and realize that this is already a prevalent problem in the United States. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, nearly 30 million Americans, or almost 10 percent of the population, will encounter some sort of eating disorder during their lifetimes.

If you or someone you love is facing such a struggle or you’re concerned that you may be but you’re not sure, you need to take some preliminary steps to find out more. If you are suffering, you need help in getting past this difficult time, as it’s not simply going to go away once the pandemic is behind us. In fact, the term “pandemic eating disorder” is a bit of a misnomer, as this is a mental health disease and not conditioned upon outside circumstances.

We urge you to contact the team of compassionate and empathetic professionals at SoCal Empowered. We will listen to your situation and help you determine if getting help is an advisable step. There is no obligation incurred by talking to us, and if you do need help we’ll even work with your insurance carrier to give you the specific answers you need before you move forward. Please contact us today to put your mind at ease.

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