COVID-19: Problematic eating patterns have emerged

The high intensity of the COVID-19 pandemic will eventually be behind us—hopefully sooner than later.  

But unfortunately, certain health behaviors may continue to linger upon us.  

Including a whole constellation of disordered eating behaviors, which the pandemic seems to have brought out in full force… 

Six key eating changes 

This research comes from the University of Minnesota Medical School and School of Public Health. And it points to a concerning rebound in eating disorders.  

(To help underscore the seriousness of this problem, consider the fact that these disorders lead to more than 10,000 deaths per year—or roughly one person every 52 minutes. It’s a harrowing statistic, any way you slice it.)  

This study aimed to investigate links between stress, psychological distress, financial problems, and changes in eating behaviors during the pandemic—and boy did it do a thorough job.  

The authors identified six key problematic eating changes: 

  • Mindless eating and snacking 
  • Increased food intake 
  • General loss of appetite or food intake 
  • Eating to cope 
  • Pandemic-related drops in food intake 
  • Relapses and flare-ups in eating disorder symptoms 

Approximately 8 percent of the subjects in this study reported extreme unhealthy weight control behaviors. Meanwhile, just over 50 percent reported less extreme weight control behaviors—and another 14 percent reported binge eating.  

Not surprisingly, the study also showed a significant association between unhealthy eating changes and poor stress management, more depressive symptoms, and moderate-to-extreme financial distress. 

Dangerous fallout 

There’s no question that most of the emphasis on pandemic-related eating behaviors has been on “the quarantine fifteen,” with a focus on weight gain and obesity. (Both of which are serious issues, too.) 

But just imagine for a second the kind of effect this likely had on the many people who struggle with disordered eating, or who are at risk.  

Eating disorders are among the most dangerous health concerns, with some of the highest mortality rates. So it’s important to think about the role the pandemic has played on this front, too.  

The arrival of COVID-19 unleashed all sorts of havoc into our daily routines. Public health measures to reduce the spread of the virus were immediate and constantly changing. And as necessary as those actions were, we are just now beginning to see the long-term consequences of this upheaval.   

That’s why I’m really glad I came across this study.  

Because the truth is, all of the anti-social restrictions we have had to endure—and to some extent, are still enduring—have affected all of our eating patterns. And those changes might have led to a wave of eating disorder relapses. 

Even after the pandemic recedes, there’s going to be lingering fallout financially, emotionally, socially, physically, and more.  

So if you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out and get the help you deserve. Because you aren’t alone in this fight. And we all need to stick together. 

P.S. Consider following me on Instagram (@DrFredNYC) and subscribing to my YouTube channel (“The Dr. Fred Show”), as I recently launched a Cooking with Dr. Fred segment. My wish is that it might help you feel less alone in this pandemic, while also showing you that home-cooked meals don’t have to be challenging… or even perfect!  


“COVID-19 pandemic has been linked with six unhealthy eating behaviors: Study shows a slight increase in eating disorders, one of the deadliest psychiatric health concerns.” Science Daily, 04/12/2021. (