The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a worsening of eating disorder symptoms, Bournemouth University (BU) research has found.
The study, published in the Journal of Eating Disorders, examined which aspects of the pandemic have been especially difficult for people with eating disorders and any resulting change in their symptoms.
Researchers surveyed 207 participants, of which 83.1% reported that their eating disorder symptoms had worsened.
Lead author Dr Laura Renshaw-Vuillier, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at BU, said: “This is really concerning, particularly at a time where support services have moved online and where people can't use their own support network in the same way as before due to the restrictions in social contact.
“Many factors have been implicated and we found that experiencing difficult emotions such as fear and uncertainty, changes to routine, as well as unhelpful messages on social media were the three biggest factors explaining the worsening of symptoms.
“For example, our participants reported that messages about fear of gaining weight during lockdown were triggering, which was particularly difficult for our participants at a time when gyms and routine exercise were less accessible.”
Emotion regulation also played an important role in managing symptoms, as well as the use of coping strategies to deal with negative emotions at a time when people have little control over some of the triggers.
The study found that difficulties regulating emotions was a significant predictor of participants’ wellbeing and that there may be benefits in working on emotion regulation strategies as part of treatment.
Dr Renshaw-Vuillier said: “We found that emotion regulation was a very good predictor of our wellbeing outcomes during the pandemic, and strategies such as acceptance – acknowledging the emotion but not trying to change it - were particularly significant.
“We suggest that treatment - whilst still adhering to the evidence-based approach - may incorporate helping people to identify their emotions and learn adaptive strategies for coping with distressing emotions, such as emotional acceptance.
“We suggest that this may be particularly important at a time where people have very limited control about the cause of their negative emotions.”
The paper was co-authored by Dr Rachel Moseley, Dr Liz May and Dr Maddy Greville-Harris, all lecturers in Psychology at Bournemouth University.
The full paper has been published open access and can be found online here: https://rdcu.be/cdtFO