April 9, 2021
The rise of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in eating disorders and body image issues for many people, according to a study published in JMIR Mental Health. As a mental health therapist, I have seen a large increase in clients presenting with these issues during the pandemic. In therapy, we can help clients understand and normalize the “why” behind eating disorders.
Eating disorders may develop during times where people feel “out of control,” such as during a life transition or in response to a traumatic event. We have seen an increase in uncertainty, fear, and devastating loss for many people during this pandemic. These intense feelings of panic and anxiety have triggered a need for control and familiarity.
Here are a few ways I have noticed eating disorders creeping into our lives:
Eating disorders that have been lying dormant for years reared their heads again and have been put back in action as a way to cope.
Newly developed eating disorders have taken hold due to a fear of weight gain during quarantine. Limitations on pandemic-safe physical activities resulted in a loss of positive coping skills like going to the gym with friends.
Pre-pandemic mental health symptoms have worsened from the stress of the pandemic and have triggered appetite or weight changes.
Social distancing guidelines have restricted many of us from spending time with family and friends. This increased social isolation has left those who suffer from eating disorders alone in their battle.
I have seen an extreme need to address treatment for those suffering with these symptoms in our community. It can be difficult to seek out and maintain treatment for those dealing with disordered eating and body image issues.
Eating disorders can have incredibly controlling and shaming effects on those who are trying to seek help. They may begin to believe that their eating disorder is “too bad to be healed” or that they will “be a burden to others.”
Disordered eating behaviors seem to provide relief and comfort and the tendency to turn to these behaviors is reinforced in a world that is filled with unknowns. The thought of giving up these behaviors can be terrifying.
Recovery for eating disorders is difficult and can be treatment-resistant, but I want you to know that it is worth it.
No matter where you are in your recovery, seeking treatment and allowing another person to walk alongside you is taking a step to silence the eating disorder. Mental health symptoms thrive in isolation, so healing begins with strengthening your relationships and your ties within the community.
Whether you solely need someone to listen to you and support you as you struggle with symptoms or you would like to fully process the source of the disordered eating and find new coping skills, treatment is available. Reach out today and begin the recovery process with the support you deserve. ⯁
Rebecca Donovan is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based out of Manhattan, Kansas. Rebecca received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at Ohio University in 2017. During her time there, she pursued research on eating disorders and led several mental health community engagement projects, which eventually led her to a career in clinical work.