The challenges of overcoming eating disorders during the pandemic

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Calls to the National Eating Disorders Hotline are up 40 percent since March of 2020, and hospitalizations of teens and young adults have doubled.

“We always kind of describe eating disorders as an illness of disconnect,” EDCare program director Keira Ebersviller said. “One of our mottos, in terms of recovery, is turn to people and not food, so as you can imagine during this pandemic, it’s a perfect and horrendous storm. It’s an ideal breeding ground for eating disorders.”

Eating disorders are among the deadliest mental health conditions claiming 10,200 lives each year–that is one death every 52 minutes–according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. The need for treatment locally and nationwide is so high that patients are put on waitlists.

“People are becoming more and more ill as they are on the waiting list, so by the time they are getting to the treatment, they are usually more ill than what we are used to seeing in the past,” Ebersviller added.

“We’re seeing an increase in disordered eating behaviors during the pandemic,” Dr. Jenna Glover, Child Psychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado said. “This is likely caused by many factors, including social isolation, trying to gain a sense of control, and challenges managing weight due to disruptions in daily routines and activity levels. Parents should be mindful of major changes to their children’s food intake, developing new avoidance of certain types of food, excessive movement or exercise, social withdrawal and unexpected increases or decreases in weight.”

This disorder doesn’t discriminate. It’s affecting all ages, races, social classes, and gender.

“We learn from our patients all of the time in terms of how sneaky they can become,” Ebersviller said. “Especially once you provide more support to an individual for interrupting one behavior, oftentimes you see another behavior come up to an alternative way to cope.”

Seventy-nine percent of patients who seek help at EDCare in Colorado Springs say the lack of structure in their lives from the onset of the pandemic has caused their eating disorders to worsen. Also, 58 percent are concerned with the lack of social support and concerned about living in a toxic environment.

“So what they can focus on and what they do have control over is their appearance and how they are eating,” she added. “Or even how they cope with the emotions or numb out the emotions on their experience.”

Even if someone is struggling severely from an eating disorder, they can be highly functioning at work or at school. Some signs of someone struggling with an eating disorder include shifts in how that person interacts with friends and family, being preoccupied with their appearance or if they make comments about tracking food, diet, exercise.

“Eating disorders have cost the U.S. 65 billion dollars per year and 50 billion of that is in productivity losses,” Ebersviller said.

EDCare has seen an increase across the board in behaviors including restrictions, exercise, binging, purging, and laxative abuse. A positive from the COVID-19 pandemic was virtual meetings with younger patients.

“It gave us as treatment providers to get a window into their home life and look at what are the things that they may not know or even describe to us when they come to a brick and motor program but is really impacting them in their home life,” she said.

In the past 18 months, treatment facilities are seeing more of an acceptance of mental health concerns.

“I’ve been highly impressed with people’s ability in both our parents and in our patient’s families to be open, honest, and vulnerable. It’s not necessarily trying to hide anymore, and I’m really encouraged by that,” Ebersviller added.

Help is out there and EDCare has a number you can call to seek treatment.

To call the Denver facility, call 303-771-0861.

To call the Colorado Springs facility, call 719-578-5132.

EDCare does have a waitlist of up to eight weeks. They offer outpatient and some partial hospitalization care, providing 10 hours of programming per day, Monday through Friday and eight hours on the weekend.

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