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Body Image During the Pandemic

For many, eating disorders and body issues became a huge part of their lives due to bullying and body shaming. According to a report from NPR, “62% of people in the U.S. with anorexia experienced a worsening of symptoms as the pandemic hit. A third of Americans with binge-eating disorder reported an increase in bingeing episodes.”

Most people compare their bodies and hold them up to society’s expectations. This stems from a lot of negativity, especially if a person doesn’t reach the unattainable standard the media portrays. It brings about several issues that chip away at a person both physically and mentally since they perceive their appearance to be inferior to society’s standards of an ideal body. This misperception of one’s own body due to society’s unrealistic body image ideals is called body dysmorphia.

Body image issues and eating disorders are not only about food, which is why they’re recognized as psychiatric disorders. People typically develop them to deal with a deeper issue or another psychological condition, such as anxiety or depression. In today’s climate of the COVID-19 pandemic, feelings of hopelessness and despair have hit an all-time high and have led to an increase in cases of eating disorders.

Many eating disorders stem from having BDD the desire for control. Here are a few common eating disorders:

Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia is a psychological eating disorder in which a person consumes large quantities of food in one sitting. During these binges, they have no sense of control over their eating. Afterward, they try inappropriate ways to lose weight, such as:

  • Vomiting
  • Fasting
  • Enemas
  • Excessive use of laxatives and diuretics
  • Compulsive exercising

Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by abnormally low body weight (typically), an intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted weight perception. No matter how much weight is lost, the person continues to fear weight gain. To avoid this they may:

  • severely restrict the amount of food they eat
  • control calorie intake by vomiting after eating
  • misuse laxatives, diet aids, diuretics, or enemas
  • exercise excessively


Some people with anorexia binge and purge, similar to individuals with bulimia, but people with anorexia generally struggle with abnormally low body weight, while individuals with bulimia are typically normal to above-average weight.

Binge Eating Disorder
People with BED may eat a lot of food in a short amount of time, even if they aren’t hungry because of emotional stress. They feel a sense of relief during a binge, but after have feelings of guilt, shame, and psychological distress.
Someone with BED may:

  • Eat very rapidly
  • Eat large amounts without feeling hungry
  • Eat alone due to feelings of shame or embarrassment

The pandemic has affected many people mentally and physically, especially concerning body image issues. Anxiety and body shaming go hand in hand. For many, eating disorders and body issues became a huge part of their lives due to bullying and body shaming. According to a report from NPR, “62% of people in the U.S. with anorexia experienced a worsening of symptoms as the pandemic hit. A third of Americans with binge-eating disorder reported an increase in bingeing episodes.”

After the analysis of a few studies conducted as well as a survey of our own, it was found that Covid-19 related stress and anxiety have caused numerous body image issues among men and women. For example, the research survey, led by Professor Viren Swami of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), involved 506 UK adults with an average age of 34.

The study found that “Amongst women, the feeling of anxiety and stress caused by COVID-19 was associated with a greater desire for thinness. It also noted that anxiety was significantly associated with body dissatisfaction.” Among the male participants, anxiety and stress were associated with a greater desire for muscle definition and body fat dissatisfaction.

Aku, a writer for In the Write, conducted her own brief survey to get an idea of the body image issues teens and young adults are facing today. Although this survey only serves to provide a general overview of the body image issues faced today, the responses demonstrate a significant drop in self-esteem for most people who were already suffering and created many issues for those who weren’t. Twenty respondents of the survey shared their experience with the pandemic’s connection to their body image. Here’s what some of them had to say:

“Self-esteem is something I suffer from a lot only when it comes to body image issues. This last year has made me reevaluate the way I think about myself, and it is something I am working on” -Lekhika

“Society already body shames you, and the pandemic only made that worse. I felt the need to make sure that when everything was resolved, I had to look the same way I did before the pandemic started, and that made it difficult for me.”
-Anonymous

Eating disorders are thriving during the pandemic. Hotline calls to the National Eating Disorders Association are up 70-80% in recent months. It’s a lethal threat. Eating disorders have the second-highest mortality rate of any psychiatric diagnosis — outranked only by opioid use disorder (NPR).

Increasing amounts of stress and adverse effects due to the pandemic and social isolation have exacerbated eating disorders’ risk and symptoms. Recognizing the signs of ED’s and evaluating the source of stress and anxiety can help individuals understand themselves better and seek help.

Mental hygiene is just as important as physical hygiene, so don’t forget to take care of your mental health.


This article was written by Shoeb Khan and Akanksha Pai.

Edited by Amirah Khan and Tiffany Leveille.

Sources:

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/09/08/908994616/eating-disorders-thrive-in-anxious-times-and-pose-a-lethal-threat

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7300468/

https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/eating-disorders-covid-19

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/common-eating-disorders

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-10/aru-cal102220.php

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