The impact of COVID-19 lockdown on disordered eating behaviors: the mediation role of psychological distress

Eat Weight Disord. 2022 Feb;27(1):179-188. doi: 10.1007/s40519-021-01128-1. Epub 2021 Mar 13.


Purpose: This study aimed to explore the early associations between the experienced psychosocial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis during lockdown, depressive symptomatology, anxiety/stress levels, and disordered eating behaviors in adults during a first COVID-19 lockdown period.

Methods: This was a community-based cross-sectional study assessing 254 Portuguese adults (82.7% women; 35.82 ± 11.82 years) 1 week after the end of the first mandatory COVID-19 lockdown in Portugal. An online survey was conducted to evaluate psychological distress, disordered eating, and psychosocial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pearson correlations and Structural Equation Modeling were performed.

Results: Participants reported the presence of meal skipping (52.8%), grazing eating behavior (80.9%), overeating (81.0%), loss of control over eating (47.2%), and binge eating episodes (39.2%) during lockdown. Structural equation modeling analyses, controlling for age and sex, indicated that there was a significant indirect effect of the experienced psychosocial impact of COVID-19 pandemic on disordered eating behaviors mediated through psychological distress.

Conclusion: The psychosocial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis may lead to disordered eating, and this relation may occur through the elevation of psychological distress. These findings can be used to inform interventions, to enhance mental health and manage disordered eating during similar future situations. Level of evidence V: cross-sectional descriptive study.

Keywords: COVID-19 lockdown; Eating behaviors; Mediation; Psychological distress; SEM.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19*
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pandemics
  • Psychological Distress*
  • SARS-CoV-2