Study Finds Eating Disorder Symptoms Reduced in Those with Strong Family Bond

Researchers are hopeful this study will shine a light on the importance of family support during treatment of eating disorders.

By: Amanda Mushro

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Photo by: Maskot

Maskot

It’s estimated that close to 29 million Americans struggle with an eating disorder in their lifetime. For many, the stress, anxiety, and uncertainty caused by the covid-19 pandemic made managing the many symptoms of an eating disorder even more complex. However, a new study suggests that families who stayed close during the pandemic helped their loved ones who were struggling with an eating disorder because they felt less alone.

According to a study out of Nottingham Trent University, researchers talked with more than 300 people who had an eating disorder. Each person was asked about their family dynamics, how often they felt lonely, and the severity of their eating disorder. Researchers also wanted to know how they managed their mental and physical health at the beginning of the pandemic when the shutdowns had an effect on finding food for their meal plans, exercise limits and loss of social circles.

What researchers found was that for all participants - across all ages and genders - the people with eating disorders who said they had a strong bond with their family felt less lonely and reported fewer symptoms such as negative eating-related thoughts and behaviors. They also said they felt less anxious during the covid lockdowns. Time with their family helped to ease their concerns and made them feel less anxious.

"Across our studies we found that family identification was associated with reductions in eating disorder symptom severity in general, as well as in anxiety during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic," says Dr. Juliet Wakefield, senior lecturer in Psychology at NTU's School of Social Sciences. "This was due to the decrease in loneliness which, in the second study, predicted a reduction in fears of the eating disorder-related impact of social distancing measures."

During the early days of the pandemic, the entire world felt the stress and anxiety of covid lockdowns, and anyone struggling with eating disorders could have seen their treatments greatly impacted. While there were many reports of spikes in eating disorder hospitalizations, this study will hopefully inspire families to rally around their loved ones even when we aren’t living under pandemic restrictions.

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