COVID-19 has had a significant impact on all of our lives, bringing about new challenges to everyone, specifically, those suffering from eating disorders and body image issues. It is evident that there has been a rise in eating disorder and body image concerns due to COVID-19 stress. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, hotline calls have risen 70-80 percent in recent months. In addition, those suffering from eating disorders have reported a worsening of symptoms, according to a survey in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, 62 percent of those suffering from anorexia in the U.S. experienced a worsening of symptoms and one-third of Americans with binge eating disorder reported an increase in binge episodes since the pandemic hit.

There is a multitude of different factors that have led to this increase in eating disorder and body image concerns during the pandemic. Since the pandemic hit, social media usage has increased immensely due to a lack of in-person social interaction. Exposure to stressful social media coverage during major disasters increases disordered eating. In general, exposure to thin and athletic body ideals presented in social media increases negative attitudes about one’s body and in turn, increases disordered eating. Due to the likelihood that individuals are spending more time on social media during their increased time at home, this makes it more likely that individuals are exposed to these unhealthy body ideals displayed in social media. Additionally, the media has been sparking fear about gaining the “Quarantine 15.”

With stay-at-home orders in place during the pandemic, there is a clear lack of social interaction during these times. Unfortunately, this decreases the likelihood of receiving good social support during the pandemic. With an increase of feelings of isolation and loneliness during these times, there are risk factors for those with psychological issues including eating disorders. Additionally, a lack of social support can make dealing with eating disorders and body image concerns more difficult for these individuals if they use social interaction and support as a coping mechanism or distraction.

However, those suffering from eating disorders and body image issues do not need to suffer alone. Illinois State University offers resources to help with the stress and challenges during the pandemic. Students can go to Redbirds Keep Thriving to find resources for social, emotional, physical, and financial wellness. Through this resource, students can also find virtual events that Illinois State offers including virtual group fitness classes, weekly meditation classes, mindfulness classes, and many more. Additionally, students can find information to sign up for The Body Project or More Than Muscles programs which are fun, effective, and free programs for all ISU students.  In these peer-led workshops, students will participate in activities and dialogue aimed at refuting unrealistic appearance ideals, while improving healthy body image.  Students who wish to seek counseling services during these times can visit Student Counseling Services to schedule an appointment and explore their options for counseling services.