Eating Disorders Increasing
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, eating disorders have escalated, especially among teens.
The National Eating Disorders Association has reported increases as high as 70% to 80% in calls to its helpline at different points last year. Last July, the International Journal of Eating Disorders published a survey of people in the United States who had already been diagnosed with anorexia, and the responses showed that many were experiencing worse symptoms. In addition, those with binge-eating disorder reported an increase in episodes.
The three most common types of eating disorders are:
-- Anorexia: a condition characterized by weight loss, distorted body image and fear of gaining weight. People with this condition typically restrict calories and types of foods consumed, may exercise compulsively and in some cases may resort to vomiting or laxatives.
-- Bulimia: a cycle of bingeing on food in large amounts and compensating with behaviors such as self-induced vomiting.
-- Binge-eating disorder: a condition that includes episodes of uncontrolled eating but does not necessarily involve purging. This is the most common eating disorder.
The pandemic caused a vicious cycle -- more kids at home, more stress, more isolation with easy access to food -- which resulted in more binge eating. That led to weight gain, and those desperate to lose the weight resorted to restrictive eating.
For those with an eating disorder, weight is a critical part of their identity. If the number on the scale goes up, they may feel humiliation or shame. To prevent that, they may restrict themselves to certain types of food and increase their exercise to burn more calories. When the restrictions are too much, they might sneak a couple of candy bars and hide the wrappers or hide food under their bed. It's a tough cycle to break.
More time on social media sites can also increase the risk of an eating disorder as teens compare their bodies to images found online. That comparison creates a downward spiral in terms of body image and self-esteem.
Disordered eating is often about control. With so many factors that contribute to feeling out of control, from family to pressure to be thin, some feel they can control food.