April 1, 2021 --Eating disorders — such as anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorders — have increased during the pandemic.

Health experts who treat eating disorders have reported a spike in the number of people who are requesting help, often with waiting lists at treatment centers across the country.

“I’m seeing more clients, and I’m getting clients who are sicker when they come to me because we cannot get them access to a higher level of treatment,” Whitney Trotter, a registered dietitian and nurse in Tennessee, told the New York Times.

The National Eating Disorders Association reported a 41% increase in messages to phone and online help lines in January 2021, ats compared with January 2020, the newspaper reported.

Early in the pandemic, a study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that more than one-third of the 1,000 participants were restricting their diet, purging or exercising to compensate during the pandemic. About 23% of the Americans in the study, published in July 2020, said they regularly binged on their stockpiled food while stuck at home.

“I’m treating more teenagers, and also more teachers, doctors, nurses and other first responders and essential personnel,” Trotter told the newspaper. “An eating disorder can manifest as a trauma response. Our nervous systems were not meant to deal with a long-term pandemic.”

Virtual treatment settings have been a challenge as well, the newspaper reported. People can’t interact as easily, and participants in group treatment programs may not feel as connected. In a small survey published in the Journal of Eating Disorders in March 2021, 68% of the eating disorder patients said they don’t want to continue online therapy when in-person options return.

“The COVID-19 pandemic we are currently living through poses a lethal double threat to those affected by eating disorders,” Luisa Fernanda Gonzalez, MD, a pediatrician in New York, wrote in a letter to the editor this week for the Times Union in Albany.

“We must advocate bringing awareness to this issue,” she wrote. “There needs to be more education regarding triggers and preventive measures.”

Show Sources

New York Times, “Trapped in the House With an Eating Disorder.”
International Journal of Eating Disorders, “Early impact of COVID‐19 on individuals with self‐reported eating disorders: A survey of ~1,000 individuals in the United States and the Netherlands.”
Journal of Eating Disorders, “The abrupt transition from face-to-face to online treatment for eating disorders: a pilot examination of patients’ perspectives during the COVID-19 lockdown.”
Times Union, “Letter: Pandemic worsening eating disorders.”

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