Why Has the Pandemic Caused a Spike in Eating Disorders?
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In addition to over 700,000 deaths and 44 million Americans infected, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a massive surge in eating disorders. The Doctors reveal the reason behind the rise in disordered eating and how to get help if you are struggling.
People isolating, lacking structure, and experiencing heightened anxiety have fueled the rise and The National Eating Disorder Helpline reported a 40 percent increase in volume in the past year. A recent survey found the rise in eating disorders was particularly high among adolescents and young adults.
Dr. Lydecker explains when an individual with a disorder is dealing with extreme amounts of stress some will escape through binge eating and others will try to control the environment and their food intake, which is seen in anorexia. Dr. Dow notes that eating alone and consuming stockpiled processed foods (like the items many of us bought at the start of the pandemic) has also caused people with disorders to relapse and new cases emerge.
Eating disorders are often associated more with women, but the National Eating Disorders Association says approximately 10 million men suffer from disordered eating at some point. (The Doctors welcome Anthony, who is recovering from anorexia, and shares his sickness become so bad that he was eating cotton balls in an effort to lose weight. He explains how his eating disorder went unnoticed for so long.)
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or have a loved one who is, knowing who to contact and where to start can feel overwhelming, but Dr. Dow shares what steps to take to get help.
The psychiatrist stresses treating an eating disorder is not an "all or nothing" situation, explaining getting help does not mean someone would need to be hospitalized for a year. He says there are many different levels of care available ranging from working with a therapist, outpatient treatment, and in some cases inpatient care.
The initial step is simply telling a trained medical professional or therapist about the issue. One possible type of treatment that Dr. Dow says can be very successful is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help people make better decisions, alter the way they think about eating and food, and address unhealthy behaviors.
"When you partner with a mental health professional, you can start to change the thoughts, the feelings, and the behaviors," Dr. Dow explains, also encouraging those who are suffering in silence to make the first step and ask for help, "You are only as sick as your secret.”
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, please contact the National Eating Disorders Association.