As we recently discussed on the blog, a growing body of research indicates that eating disorders may have become both more common and more severe during the coronavirus pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean the news is all bad. Much of this research also points to possible silver linings of life for people with eating disorders during COVID.
What We Can Learn From Eating Disorders During COVID
While the positives aren’t likely to outweigh the negatives, they do point to ways that clinicians might work with patients with eating disorders in order to emphasize their strengths and draw out their resilience. Here are a few of the potential upsides that the research reveals.
- Increased access to and use of online support: When pandemic lockdowns began, many eating disorder providers and patients had no choice but to switch to remote treatment options. Although online treatment has its drawbacks, research indicates that some eating disorder patients appreciated certain aspects of it, including reduced travel times, easier access to clinicians, and less anxiety around seeking help. These positive experiences speak to the importance of flexible, varied treatment options that can adapt to patients’ unique needs.
- Time and space for self-care: Participants in several studies reported that, with fewer social pressures and less busy schedules, pandemic restrictions made it easier for them to rest and take care of themselves. One study found that some people with eating disorders reported that having more time and space motivated them to focus on recovery. An analysis of social media posts in an online eating disorder community also found that many users viewed the pandemic as a chance to build healthier habits.
- Connections with family and friends: The research indicates that some people with eating disorders viewed the pandemic as a positive influence on their interpersonal connections. Some study participants reported that physical distance from loved ones prompted them to reach out more actively for support and build stronger connections with their communities.
- Successful use of positive coping strategies: A number of studies found that emotion regulation skills were strongly associated with more positive outcomes for participants with eating disorders. While lockdowns were stressful and triggered unhealthy coping mechanisms for some participants, those who were able to use emotion regulation strategies often experienced less distress. These findings highlight the value of concrete, teachable coping skills for people with eating disorders and demonstrate how these strategies can foster increased resilience even under immense stress.
How This Research Impacts Eating Disorder Treatment
These findings point to a number of meaningful strengths that clinicians might work with patients to develop and take advantage of, regardless of pandemic restrictions. Participant reports highlight the ability of individuals with eating disorders to derive support and motivation from a wide range of sources, even during challenging times.
The body of research on the experiences of people with eating disorders during COVID is still limited. But so far, it suggests that clinicians can and should work to build on patients’ existing motivations and support systems, while also seeking opportunities to help them develop effective coping skills and take advantage of flexible treatment options when appropriate.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder and suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors, please reach out to our team at email@example.com to discuss treatment options.