The Early Impact of COVID-19 on Patients with Eating Disorders

Now that we’re nearly eight months in, it’s safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all profoundly – in varying ways. For individuals struggling with mental health issues, including eating disorders, the impact has been staggering. In a time marked by uncertainty, stress, and isolation, eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder can serve a central function by providing the perception of control, familiarity, and comfort — at least in the short-term (and in spite of the long term damaging effects). A recent story on Good Morning America revealed that calls to the National Eating Disorder Association hotline have increased by 70 percent compared to this time last year; although individuals are struggling, they also appear to be willing to seek help. 

Study Results: COVID-19 and Eating Disorders

In a study of approximately 1,000 diagnosed individuals in the United States and the Netherlands, respondents remarked on increases in anxiety since 2019 and had greater concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health rather than their physical health. Participants with anorexia reported increased restrictions and fears about being unable to find the foods they need. Individuals with bulimia and/or binge-eating disorder revealed increases in their binge-eating episodes and desire to binge. Many patients expressed concern for eating disorder relapse due to COVID-19 circumstances for reasons including a lack of structure (53 percent of the 511 US participants), a lack of social support (32 percent), and the triggering environment (39 percent). However, it’s important to note that participants also identified positive effects of the pandemic, including greater connection with family, increased time for self-care, and higher motivation to recover (source). 

In an online survey of 159 patients with anorexia, all discharged from inpatient treatment in 2019, 70 percent of patients reported that eating, shape, and weight concerns; drive for physical activity; loneliness; sadness; and inner restlessness all increased during the pandemic. Access to in-person psychotherapies decreased by 37 percent and access to general practitioners, by 46 percent. Unfortunately, many patients opted out of using teletherapy, with only 26 percent using videoconference appointments and 35 percent using telephone calls. Notably, only one in five patients felt that their treatment was deeply impaired by the pandemic. For coping strategies, patients found the most success with establishing a daily routine, day planning, and completing enjoyable activities (source).

How We Can Help

As the study results outlined above reveal, individuals are experiencing added difficulties as they struggle with eating disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Columbus Park team is here to help. Columbus Park delivers all of our in-person treatments via teleconference (using Zoom’s HIPAA-compliant, secure platform). We’ve found that overwhelmingly, our clients appreciate the virtual platform, as it has distinct advantages beyond COVID-safety both in terms of time savings (no travel needed) and the added benefit of doing the critical therapeutic work in the home environment where the eating disorder typically “lives”. 

For many years now – since well before COVID-19 – the Columbus Park team has been using teletherapy as a way to make our specialized care more available and easily accessible to clients. So we are especially experienced, skilled, and confident when using the telehealth platform for care. The efficacy of this treatment delivery option ensures that our patients remain on the path to recovery during the pandemic. 

We look forward to learning more from the research that is happening right now as well as the studies that will occur in the months and years to come. These results will dig deeper into the impact of the pandemic on mental health and eating disorders and also have implications for future treatment options. For now, please know that you or a loved one can seek help without compromising your safety by receiving support at home environment. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out to our team at to discuss telehealth treatment options.