Eating disorders on the rise during COVID-19 pandemic, experts say
Calls to the National Eating Disorder Association have risen 80 percent, according to experts
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - As daily routines continue to be disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, people who have struggled with eating disorders are at an even greater risk of unhealthy behavior, according to Dr. Siri Khalsa-Zemel, executive director at Focus Integrative Centers in Knoxville.
Dr. Khalsa-Zemel said isolation during the pandemic is making for a dangerous situation for people with eating disorders, she added that calls to the National Eating Disorder Association hotline have gone up by 80 percent in recent months since the pandemic began.
“We know that those with eating disorders have a high degree of anxiety, a real difficulty sitting with uncertainty which, you know, here in the pandemic, this is a an incredibly uncertain time for all of us, sitting with that anxiety for those who have that propensity towards anxiety and difficulty with uncertain dates are even worse,” said Dr. Khalsa-Zemel.
She said 75 percent of Americans have some form of unhealthy relationships with eating, impacting men and women of all races and ages, some as young as 8 years old.
Dr. Khalsa-Zemel said she is seeing more patients diagnosed with a newly diagnosed disorder called binge eating, one she said is largely connected to trauma and isolation.
“Binge eating comes with very, very high rates of shame, similar to bulimia, very high rates of shame and secrecy. We’re all living in social isolation right now, ordering food to be delivered to your house has never been so easy and you know, just throw in a margarita to boot at no charge, I mean, it’s amazing what what you have access to food right now,” she said.
While social distancing and stay-at-home orders mean people aren’t seeing much of one another during the pandemic, Dr. Khalsa-Zemel said it is important to recognize that people have been seeing more of themselves.
“Because we have increase in media exposure, very anxiety provoking media exposure, idealization of thinness, constantly seeing ourselves on camera, you know, video conferencing, for someone with an eating disorder, these are terrifying experiences, constantly comparing to others,” she said.
She wants people to know, even in a socially-distanced world, there is help in connecting. Focus Integrative Centers is offering online therapy for people struggling with eating disorders.
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