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Eating disorder cases surge as pandemic increases feelings of isolation, loss of control

eating disorders pandemic
Posted at 12:20 PM, Sep 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-23 16:19:49-04

DENVER, Co. — The view that patients battling eating disorders at EDCare in Denver can see outside the center's windows represents the endless possibility that awaits them at the end of their treatment.

"That's why every single person is here is," said program director Kiera Ebersviller, "because it's a privilege to be able to walk side by side with our patients in their journey, through recovery."

As difficult and complicated eating disorders can be, the pandemic has only made the illness harder to fight.

"It never stopped the amount of patients; we never slowed down," said Brittany Sims, a primary therapist at the eating disorder treatment center, which has locations in Kansas City, Omaha, and Colorado Springs as well.

Sims says they haven't just seen more patients, but the patients have also been coming to the clinic sicker.

"Because we have more patients on the waiting list and it takes more time to get them in, they're coming in more ill, so we definitely saw not only an increase in people reaching out, but also just the acuity was higher throughout this," she said.

The helpline at National Eating Disorder Association, or NEDA, has had a 40% increase in calls to their helpline since March 2020.

That trend was mirrored at EDCare as well. They have seen a 33% increase in patients, and among them, an 80% increase in dangerous behaviors. Those behaviors include binge eating, purging, compulsive exercise and laxative abuse.

Why this rise in numbers? It just so happens that the conditions created by the pandemic, including isolation, a lack of control, higher anxiety--conditions that eating disorders thrive in.

"Eating disorders are secretive, they're isolating," said Sims. "There is such a lack of control for a person during the pandemic and not being able to really feel like they can control anything, so they might be controlling the way they are fueling their body or moving their body and just to feel from even an ounce of control."

Among mental illnesses, eating disorders have the highest rates of death. If you suspect your child or loved one may be developing one, it's important to approach them from a place of care.

"It's asking questions, just being curious as opposed to accusatory," said Sims.

Through the hardships, the staff at EDCare are blown away by the resilience of their patients and their ability to see hope; knowing that, with that first step of seeking help can come life-saving healing.

If you or someone you love are struggling with behaviors that may be associated with an eating disorder, EDCare has a list of resources on their website. You also can contact one of their four locations for more information.