Eating disorders and COVID-19

Disclaimer: This resource provides information, not advice. Please read the full disclaimer at the end of this resource.

On this page you can find out about the risks of becoming unwell with COVID-19 if you have an eating disorder, vaccine eligibility, and how eating disorder services may have changed throughout the pandemic.

According to the UK eating disorder charity Beat, people with eating disorders are not necessarily more at risk from COVID-19.

However, it is important to follow the latest Government guidance to reduce your risk of COVID-19. You should speak to your healthcare team if you are concerned about your risk of contracting COVID-19.

Adults living with ‘severe mental illness’ are included in vaccine priority group 6. This is described as those with ‘schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or any mental illness that causes severe functional impairment’. Speak to your eating disorder team or GP if you feel that you fall within this group and might be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

If you are a carer of someone with an eating disorder, you should qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Beat offer supporting letters to share with your GP if you have an eating disorder or are a carer for someone with an eating disorder, to encourage your GP to consider whether you might need to be prioritised for a COVID-19 vaccine.

For many people, the first signs that they have COVID-19 are a high temperature (fever), a cough or a loss of smell or taste.

If you have anorexia nervosa, you may not develop a high temperature. You may still experience other symptoms of COVID-19, such as noticeable tiredness or lack of energy, loss of smell, taste, or abdominal pain and diarrhoea. If you have any of these symptoms, you should self-isolate and seek advice from a health professional or your treatment team on what to do next.

You can see a full list of Covid-19 symptoms on the NHS website.

Shops and gyms have been closed a lot throughout the pandemic. This may have had an impact on any routines you have around eating and exercise.

You may have found it challenging to see friends and family, especially if they don’t live nearby or if you have been in hospital, where it has been difficult for families to visit.

Finally, your access to your healthcare team has probably been very different throughout the pandemic, with access to some services being provided virtually instead of in person.

While this might not always be possible, doing the following things might help you to feel more supported and help you with managing your eating disorder:

  • Keep in touch regularly with supportive friends and family. If seeing them in person is not possible yet, try speaking to them on the phone or over video.
  • Follow a daily routine. Plan regular meals so you get the nutrition you need to stay well and talk to your treatment team about how you can manage your eating disorder during this time.
  • Stay in contact with your healthcare team and let them know if you are struggling. They are there to support you and will want to help.
  • Try to limit your use of social media. If you find you are using certain apps or websites too much, you could set a time limit on your phone, or block certain websites so you aren’t able to use them so easily.

While many appointments are now taking place in person again, this will probably depend on your service. Some out-patient appointments may be arranged remotely (as telephone or video calls).

For any physical examinations, staff will wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and you will be asked to wear a face mask. To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, the doctor or nurse might limit conversation with you. You may receive your results by telephone or video call. Your team may also ask you to do some physical monitoring at home to reduce how often you are coming into the clinic.

The way you get your regular medication might also be different. We have published information on accessing your medication to help you understand these changes.

Speak to your healthcare team if you have any questions about how your appointments will take place.

While eating disorder services are beginning to open up again, this will depend on your local service, and there might still be changes to the way you can access day patient treatment.

Your healthcare team should be able to let you know how this might affect you.

COVID-19 can be passed on if staff and patients are close to each other for long periods of time, so in-patient services should be focused on reducing this risk.

If you have to go to hospital to receive in-patient care, you may be tested for COVID-19 and be required to self-isolate for a period of time after you are admitted. The risk of COVID-19 also means that people might not be able to visit you in hospital and you might not be allowed to go on home leave. You can stay in touch with your friends and family over the phone or through video calls.

Social distancing means that in common areas, such as dining rooms, you will need to keep a distance of 2 metres from other people. You will be asked to wash your hands regularly and you might be asked to wear a face mask in communal areas. It is important to have access to fresh air, but you will need to stay 2 metres away from others at all times when outside.

Staff will be wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) on the ward to protect themselves and patients from infection. You will receive care in your own bedroom as much as possible.

Group or individual therapy may sometimes be provided remotely or with a 2-metre distance in place. Ward rounds and other review meetings may be carried out remotely, too.

For you:

  • BEAT is the UK’s eating disorder charity, and provide further information on eating disorders and COVID-19, including health, treatment, food, exercise and links to other available support.

For families:

  • Feast is the global support and education community for families of those with eating disorders, and has pandemic-related resources.

Disclaimer

This resource provides information, not advice.  

The content in this resource is provided for general information only. It is not intended to, and does not, amount to advice which you should rely on. It is not in any way an alternative to specific advice. 

You must therefore obtain the relevant professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action based on the information in this resource.

If you have questions about any medical matter, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider without delay.  

If you think you are experiencing any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention from a doctor or other professional healthcare provider.  

Although we make reasonable efforts to compile accurate information in our resources and to update the information in our resources, we make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in this resource is accurate, complete or up to date.