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Social distancing can worsen eating disorders, says WVU expert

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Elizabeth Claydon, assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences, said social distancing can be a challenging time for people with eating disorders. (WVU Photo/Brian Persinger)

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People with eating disorders can have an especially difficult time, said Elizabeth Claydon, an assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences at West Virginia University, noting the pandemic might make people more susceptible to disordered eating or exacerbate disordered eating for a number of reasons.


“Eating disorders and disordered eating act as a negative coping strategy to try to exert control over one’s life in an uncontrollable time.”

“‘Scarcity talk’ can exacerbate an eating disorder or trigger a relapse. Scarcity talk is talk that reinforces the worry or concern that an item—or food—is or will become limited. This can lead someone to compulsively or binge eat that food because the person wants to eat it while they have it. It can also lead to restriction and guilt around the food in an attempt to ‘save’ that resource.”

“Feeling isolated can definitely trigger disordered eating. Eating disorders and disordered eating are often co-morbid with other psychiatric conditions, so if depression or anxiety is triggered by social isolation, an eating disorder or disordered eating can result. Also, there is less accountability around food when someone is in isolation and meals are eaten separately.”

“Social distancing doesn’t have to mean losing your social network. If you have an eating disorder, find creative ways to connect through technology to maintain your mental health. Try to avoid scarcity talk, and work with your therapist to find strategies to cope. Find ways to keep therapy appointments remotely as well, even if they are email check-ins.” — Elizabeth Claydon, assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences at West Virginia University

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVU Today.

If you are struggling with disordered eating, call the National Eating Disorder Helpline at 800-931-2237. If you are a WVU student, you can also text WVU to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. If you aren’t a WVU student, text HOME.



CONTACT: Elizabeth Claydon
Assistant Professor, Social and Behavioral Sciences
WVU School of Public Health


Nikky Luna
Director, Marketing and Communications
WVU School of Public Health

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