Disordered Eating, Beyond Weight Gain, Consequence of Pandemic

Disordered Eating, Beyond Weight Gain, Consequence of Pandemic

April 14, 2021
Annette Maggi

By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

While “pandemic pounds” have been talked about frequently, an overall move towards disordered eating is emerging as a consequence of the past year. A new, small study out of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, School of Public Health, and the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health identified six themes of disordered eating as outcomes of the pandemic among young consumers (720 participants, average age 24.7 years). The themes identified were:

  • Mindless eating and snacking were named as the most common eating disturbance during COVID-19, with study participants indicating eating out of boredom and with lack of hunger. 
  • Increased food consumption differed from mindless eating as it was about the amount consumed in a sitting. These individuals indicated they were binge eating more frequently during the pandemic. 
  • Decrease in appetite. These individuals indicate their activity was significantly diminished due working and staying home that they simply weren’t hungry.
  • Eating as a coping mechanism. People indicate heightened emotions on many fronts during the pandemic – stress, fear, anger – led them to eat more as a coping mechanism.
  • Reduced food consumption. Individuals indicated that stress and anxiety, in some cases due to concerns about food safety, led them to skip meals and eat less. Gym closures impacted this behavior, as those already concerned about weight management paid more attention to food consumption given less access to their normal workout routines.
  • Increase in eating disorder symptoms. For some consumers, it was re-emergence or worsening of eating disorder symptoms, with resurfacing of old habits during the pandemic.

Study results indicate that these behaviors were associated with poorer stress management, greater depressive symptoms and moderate or extreme financial difficulties.

As health professionals committed to helping consumers live healthier lives through nutrient-dense and calorie appropriate eating habits, this study is a call to action to address other issues, such as stress, depression and new financial constraints, that may be leading to disordered eating.