From Preventing Suicide to Preventing Suicidality: The Power of Proactive Wellness Check-Ins
As a vegan, one of my favorite jokes goes like this: Q: How do you know someone you just met is vegan? A: They’ll tell ...
By DORIS IAROVICI, MD
Psychiatrist & JED Subject Matter Expert
When much of the US–and the world–went into lockdown this spring, most of us were forced into new relationships with food. Grocery shopping took on an aura of heightened risk, restaurants closed, and fears about food shortages encouraged hoarding behaviors–making us all think about how and what we eat much more than usual. Online classes and remote work have caused us to “see” ourselves much more frequently than before. For those struggling with disordered eating or body image problems, COVID-19 conditions created a perfect storm of increased risk for worsened eating disorders. Identifying those most at risk is a critical first step in mitigating the damage that an eating disorder can cause.
Although it’s too soon to have clear evidence of how or if the pandemic has increased the incidence of eating disorders, many of my patients have demonstrated worsened or new eating disorder symptoms while under stay-at-home orders. Many other clinicians report similar concerns. The Journal of Eating Disorders published an editorial in April 2020 sounding the alarm about the pandemic’s impact on eating, which is also being documented by qualitative studies. But some people who were not struggling with food or body image before the pandemic are also experiencing new difficulties.
Disordered eating behaviors, from restricting to binge eating to binging and purging, often arise as attempts to manage significant anxiety or to exert control when a person feels life is out of control. Eating disorders often disrupt interpersonal relationships, but the reverse is also true: isolation can worsen eating problems. While anxiety is a universal and normal response to the disruptions caused by COVID-19, using disordered eating to cope leads to more problems. Finding other ways to manage anxiety is critical.
If you were in treatment for an eating disorder before the pandemic began, or if you’ve recovered from one but notice certain symptoms creeping in again–or if you’ve never been diagnosed but notice new eating rituals or food and weight fears emerging–it’s important to seek help right away, even during the pandemic, because eating disorders are among the most dangerous of mental health illnesses. And though there are challenges to evaluating and treating eating disorders by telemedicine, there are also some creative new opportunities for support.
Some signs of disordered eating:
If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text HOME to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7.
If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, text or call 988.
If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.