COVID-19: Sheltering Can Make Things More Difficult for People with Eating Disorders

COVID-19: Sheltering Can Make Things More Difficult for People with Eating Disorders

For people with eating disorders, however, it’s created a “perfect storm” of unhealthy, emotional eating triggers, from social isolation to anxiety over perceived shortages of food supplies, experts say.

Officials at the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline said their chat queries increased 83 percent between April 2019 and April 2020.

Doctors specializing in treating eating disorders say they’ve also observed a sharp uptick in problem reports from their patients.

“I had a full schedule this morning,” said Dr. Harry Brandt, medical director for the Eating Recovery Center in Maryland.

He’s been meeting patients via telemedicine.

“People are really struggling,” Brandt said. “I’m very concerned, because even when you can meet patients in person, this can be a difficult illness to [recover] from.”

Eating disorders include issues with both overeating and restricting food. The most common diagnoses include anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating.

Anxiety plays an outsized role in each diagnosis, experts say.

 

Food scarcity can be a trigger

Food shortages brought on by hoarding and supply chain issues during the pandemic may hit especially close to home for those with eating disorders.

Stocking up due to perceived scarcity, for example, can become a dangerous trigger for those who binge eat, according to Ariel Johnston, RD, LD, of The Tasty Balance LLC.

Just having excess food in a pantry at home can make those struggling revert to old behaviors, or exacerbate behaviors like bingeing on the foods because they are available.

 

Overcoming isolation

Even without the mandates of a lockdown, people with eating disorders are already good at isolating themselves.

Eating disorders thrive on secrecy and isolation. They get stronger when no one knows what you’re up to. You feel like you can ‘get away with it’ without anyone knowing. This is a top reason why those with eating disorders are struggling even more in COVID environment.

At a time when we are being encouraged to isolate, it makes it that much more difficult to reach out for support, and many end up feeling deeply shameful about their struggles and behavior.

 

 

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