RENO, Nev. (KOLO) – Eating disorders are becoming more common with the pandemic now nearly two years old.
Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, who is one of Saint Mary’s medical directors says some urgent care providers have seen a spike in eating disorders across all age groups, including teenage girls ages 12 to 17.
“The pandemic has really provided challenges because of the lack of control,” says Dr. Curry-Winchell. “You know, a piece I think people forget is the food shortage that was happening, which could cause a huge amount of anxiety, especially for someone who is having an eating disorder, if they have a specific type of food that they rely on.”
She says many teens are not showing up saying they have an eating disorder, but with symptoms caused by it.
“As you take time to really connect with the patient, you find out it’s not something such as a cough or cold,” said Dr. Curry-Winchell. “They’re actually seeking help for something else, such as an eating disorder or anxiety, or depression.”
The spike among this age group is no surprise for Amanda Elliot who struggled with anorexia when she was 17.
“A series of events spiraled this need for control,” said Elliot.
She says eating disorders thrive on comparison, which social media platforms have made easier.
“My coping mechanism was to focus on this idea of ‘healthy eating,’” said Elliot. “Oh, ‘I’ll get healthy,’ lots of exercise, lots of good eating and that developed almost overnight in an eating disorder.”
Elliot was discharged from treatment seven years ago and for a long time, including part of treatment, she didn’t know there was a problem.
“The really terrible part is that a lot of people agreed with me. There were people around me that were like, ‘Oh you’re so good with food, so healthy, look how thin you look, I wish I could be like you’, and inside I was literally and figuratively dying.”
Certified eating disorder specialist and founder of Thrive Wellness, Kat Geiger says this is very common.
“You can’t know that someone has an eating disorder by just looking at them,” said Geiger. “Only in a small percentage of cases, can you actually look at someone and know they’re struggling with an eating disorder.”
Losing and gaining significant amounts of weight are not the only signs of an eating disorder.
Others include disappearing shortly after eating or completely cutting out certain food groups like carbs.
“When the average person thinks about bulimia, they think of someone who loses calories through vomiting,” said Geiger. “But the reality is bulimia can be exercise bulimia, can be bulimia through laxatives, there are many different forms bulimia can take.”
Binge eating is one of the most common eating disorders. It is when you can eat large amounts of food in a short period of time.
“Typically these are foods that are considered “forbidden fruits,” said Geiger. “So binging on a chocolate cake in private. If you notice that large quantities of food are disappearing frequently from your pantry at night. You may have someone who’s struggling with an eating disorder.”
Geiger says one thing people can do to help prevent eating disorders is to stop moralizing food.
“Try to not think of food as good food, bad food, try to just talk about food very neutrally,” said Geiger. “Food is fuel, food is energy that I put in my body.”
Geiger says typically when you ask someone why it is so important to change their image, the answer is usually to be loved and to feel like they belong.
“Treating people for eating disorders is about treating them on that deep level, not just the surface,” said Geiger.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder, you can say, “I love and I see you’re in pain, let’s find you help together or I’m here to help you when you’re ready.”
Thrive Wellness specializes in eating disorders. You can contact them by calling (775) 525-8103 or emailing Reno@thrivehere.com.
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