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Early Impact of COVID-19 on Individuals with Eating Disorders: A survey of ~1000 Individuals in the United States and the Netherlands

By Jet D. Termorshuizen, Hunna J. Watson, Laura M. Thornton, Stina Borg, Rachael E. Flatt, Casey M. MacDermod, Lauren E. Harper, Eric F. van Furth, Christine M. Peat, Cynthia Bulik

Posted 29 May 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.05.28.20116301

We received rapid ethical permission to evaluate the early impact of COVID-19 on people with eating disorders. Participants in the United States (US, N=511) and the Netherlands (NL, N=510), recruited through ongoing studies and social media, completed an online baseline survey that included both quantitative measures and free-text responses assessing the impact of COVID-19 on situational circumstances, eating disorder symptoms, eating disorder treatment, and general well-being. Results revealed strong and wide-ranging effects on eating disorder concerns and illness behaviors that were consistent with diagnoses. Participants with anorexia nervosa (US 62% of sample; NL 69%) reported increased restriction and fears about being able to find foods consistent with their meal plan. Individuals with bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder (US 30% of sample; NL 15%) reported increases in their binge-eating episodes and urges to binge. Respondents noted marked increases in anxiety since 2019 and reported greater concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health than physical health. Although many participants acknowledged and appreciated the transition to telehealth, limitations of this treatment modality for this population were raised. Individuals with past histories of eating disorders noted concerns about relapse related to COVID-19 circumstances. Encouragingly, respondents also noted positive effects including greater connection with family, more time for self-care, and motivation to recover.

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