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Over the past 2 years, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many physical and emotional challenges. But has it also had a negative effect on people’s eating habits and increased the prevalence of eating disorders?

Research suggests that disordered eating habits have increased during the pandemic. Image credit: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

Although not listed as a diagnosable condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), eating disorders can cause symptoms similar to an eating disorder, including including restrictive or compulsive food consumption.

Additionally, anxiety, emotional distress, and routine changes — some of the same stressors many people have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic — can trigger or intensify these symptoms.

Early in the pandemic, research indicated an increase in self-reported eating disorder issues. However, does this mean that pandemic-related stress has led to an increase in other food-related mental health issues, such as eating disorders?

Stay informed with live updates on the current COVID-19 outbreak and visit our coronavirus hub for more prevention and treatment advice.

In this special feature, we spoke with two experts to help determine the relationship between eating disorders and the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is Disordered Eating?

Eating disorders can be difficult to define because they encompass a wide range of eating habits. However, in general, people with disordered eating habits may eat for reasons other than hunger.

Additionally, they may also change their eating habits in response to internal or external stimuli, such as stress, boredom, or emotional dysregulation. People with disordered eating habits may experience similar symptoms to those with an eating disorder. These symptoms may include: fasting or skipping meals binge eating avoidance of certain food groups or types of foods purging or abusing laxatives unhealthy preoccupation with body image or unhealthy weight diet diagnosed.

How is it different from an eating disorder? Although eating disorders are not the same as an eating disorder, they could be considered preclinical eating disorder behavior, according to Dr. Jillian Lampert, director of program strategy. Emily and Veritas Collaborative, who spoke with Medical News Today.