As mandated quarantine due to the COVID-19 virus continues, a picture of the effects of isolation and confinement is emerging. As noted in these pages before, these effects include increased depression and anxiety. Less is known, however, about the effects of confinement among persons with eating disorders. Further risk factors may contribute to the likelihood of developing an ED, such as increased time spent using social media and the toxic influences of the objectification of the thin ideal on the Internet. Isolation and loneliness are common consequences of AN, and may be exaggerated by the imposed quarantine.
Problems with emotional regulation can trigger ED symptoms (binge-eating episodes and consequent purging behaviors), while a consequence of increased external control may be reduced food intake. Another risk factor involves treatment: In the context of COVID-19, and in many healthcare settings, only urgent visits and inpatient treatment for severe ED cases are provided. When possible, online treatments, rather than face-to-face visits have been recommended.
A pilot study provides some answers
A small pilot study has provided new information about ED patients confined to home during the COVID-19 pandemic (Eur Eat Disord Rev. 2020; 28:239). Dr. Fernando Fernández-Aranda and colleagues at the Eating Disorders Unit, University Hospital of Bellvitgel, Barcelona, Spain, used a telephone survey to monitor the first two weeks of confinement among 32 ED patients (13 with AN, 10 with BN, 5 with Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED) and 4 with BED). The mean age of participants was 29.2 years (range: 16 to 49 years of age), and most were female (90.6%).