Increased emotional eating during COVID-19 associated with lockdown, psychological and social distress.

Appetite. 2021;160:105122

Plain language summary

After China, Italy was the first country in which the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic rapidly spread. As a consequence, a lockdown was imposed in the entire nation to reduce the spread of infections. The main aim of this study was to investigate how the negative emotions raised by the lockdown and the social features that characterised the quality of life during lockdown interacted with individual characteristics to affect the eating behaviour during the lockdown. This study is based on an anonymous online survey which was shared via social media targeting Italian residents or speakers who were 18 years of age or older. A total of 365 participants were considered for this study. Results indicate that: - increased emotional eating was significantly predicted by higher level of anxiety, depression, and partially, by Quality of Life and Quality of the Relationships. - increased binge eating was predicted by higher stress. - higher alexithymia [a broad term to describe problems with feeling emotions] scores were associated by increased emotional eating and higher body mass index scores were associated with both increased emotional eating and binge eating. - emotional eating and binge eating decreased significantly in Phase 2 compared to Phase 1 of the lockdown period. Authors conclude that future policies during lockdown should also take into consideration the emotional toll on individual well-being and should include measures of psychological support.


Due to the spread of COVID 2019, the Italian government imposed a lockdown on the national territory. Initially, citizens were required to stay at home and not to mix with others outside of their household (Phase 1); eventually, some of these restrictions were lifted (Phase 2). To investigate the impact of lockdown on emotional and binge eating, an online survey was conducted to compare measures of self-reported physical (BMI), psychological (Alexithymia), affective (anxiety, stress, and depression) and social (income, workload) state during Phase 1 and Phase 2. Data from 365 Italian residents showed that increased emotional eating was predicted by higher depression, anxiety, quality of personal relationships, and quality of life, while the increase of bingeing was predicted by higher stress. Moreover, we showed that higher alexithymia scores were associated by increased emotional eating and higher BMI scores were associated with both increased emotional eating and binge eating. Finally, we found that from Phase 1 to Phase 2 binge and emotional eating decreased. These data provide evidence of the negative effects of isolation and lockdown on emotional wellbeing, and, relatedly, on eating behaviour.

Lifestyle medicine

Fundamental Clinical Imbalances : Neurological ; Structural
Patient Centred Factors : Triggers/COVID-19 lockdown
Environmental Inputs : Diet ; Nutrients ; Mind and spirit
Personal Lifestyle Factors : Nutrition ; Psychological
Functional Laboratory Testing : Not applicable

Methodological quality

Jadad score : Not applicable
Allocation concealment : Not applicable