The rise in young people with eating disorders increased during the pandemic

Many people with an eating disorder may not have any obvious signs or symptoms that indicate a problem.

AUSTIN, Texas – Mental illness can be life-threatening, but some are quieter than others and harder to detect.

Eating disorders affect people of all ages, race, size, gender identity, sexual orientation, and background. The combined mental and physical assault on the body of an eating disorder increases the mortality rate from sudden heart attack, multiple organ failure, and other fatal consequences of prolonged malnutrition.

Eating disorder – including anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating – are the deadliest mental illnesses. every 52 minutes, someone dies from an eating disorder in the USA

A challenge with the disease is that it often goes undetected and people struggle for years before receiving a diagnosis and specialist treatment. Part of this stems from longstanding stereotypes about how someone with an eating disorder “looks.” Also, many people with an eating disorder may not have any obvious signs or symptoms that suggest there is a problem.

cases are increasing

studies show There has been a significant increase in cases of eating disorders – especially in adolescents and young adults – since 2019. Early The 2022 data shows no improvement. Common symptoms include unusual weight fluctuations, dietary restrictions, and increased irritability, fatigue, anxiety, or depression.

Abby Christiansen is one of those cases.

“It’s like this voice in my head,” Christiansen said. “It was just, ‘You have to lose this weight. You have to train so much. You have to burn so many calories.” And whenever I did, it just wasn’t enough.”

16 year old junior in high school loves to study. She is in a marching band and keeps active by doing karate. But the things she loves were taken away from her when disordered eating crept into her everyday life at the age of 14.

Christiansen, a self-proclaimed perfectionist who has struggled with anxiety, said as the pandemic kept her at home and away from music and exercise, things started to go downhill.

“I started seeing all these things online, like, you’ve got to become a better version of yourself through COVID. And they mostly talked about changing their bodies,” Christiansen said.

The rising number of eating disorders is partly due to the diet and exercise culture at a time when places like gyms have been closed. The problem became so evident during this period that even social media platforms like Instagram stepped in to create a more body-friendly environmentwhich gives users the ability to block weight-related ads.

Still, it wasn’t enough to keep the teenager from getting sick.

“It felt like I wasn’t really present at any moment because I was always thinking about food, I was always thinking about my body. I thought about what other people thought about my body,” explained Christiansen. “I was described as looking like I was dying. I lost the sparkle in my eyes. That was one of the big things. People were always like, ‘You’ve lost the sparkle in your eyes.’”

get treatment

Across the countrythe annual economic cost of eating disorders, due to emergency room visits and inpatient hospitalizations, is in the billions. The disease affects all genders, but women are twice as likely to develop an eating disorder. And while it affects people of all races, studies show that people of color with eating disorders are only half as likely to be diagnosed or treated.

Christiansen credits her doctor, who she also affectionately calls her friend, with urging her to seek the help she needed. First Christiansen was treated Dell Children’s Hospital in Austin. From there, she spent nearly seven weeks in an inpatient and inpatient treatment program at a facility in Plano. After that she was intensively outpatient. Christiansen has now made regular therapy appointments.

“I had to do it for myself if I wanted to survive,” said Christiansen. “It would be fatal if I didn’t get the help I need.”

Christiansen has taken her experiences and used them to educate the public through her Instagram account and eating disorder awareness organizations like the National Association for Eating Disorders. In November, Christiansen a NEDA walk at the Austin Zoo with her mother Sheri.

Still, Christiansen admits that despite the progress she’s made in her recovery, she still struggles with “letting go” of eating disorders.

“Your eating disorder convinces you that it makes you feel so good. But whenever you go against what it says, it tells you, ‘Oh, you’re going to look like this and everyone is going to hate you for it,’ something like that,” Christiansen said. “And I still realize that’s not true.”

Diana Anzaldua is a licensed consultant and the founder of Austin Trauma Therapy Center in Austin. Her caseload consists of clients with chronic illnesses and mental disorders, including eating disorders.

Anzaldua said she and other counselors have seen an increase in young patients with eating disorders.

“It could be an obsession with their body weight or their height, an obsession with calories,” Anzaldua said. “This fear and obsession of, ‘Oh, I can’t eat that, I can’t eat that.'”

Anzaldua explained that while eating disorders can be influenced by our environment, they can also be caused by past trauma and even our family genes.

“We don’t know other people’s stories,” Anzaldua said. “We don’t know where they’re from, what they’ve been through, how trauma has affected them and their gender, their family and generations before them.”

Annabelle Osowski is a nutritionist. She often works with patients with eating disorders.

Osowski said not every patient is immediately ready to improve their relationship with food, but learning about the connection between food and mental health is a good place to start.

“Diet and food are often not necessarily traditional medicine’s approach to mental health or other issues related to depression or mental disorders,” Osowski said. “But diet can be a huge benefit.”

Osowski said a healthy relationship with food means approaching, thinking about and consuming food with confidence and goodness.

“[A healthy relationship with food] being able to engage in it – be it at an event or at home… To be around food and not to struggle with the type of food or the amount of food, to be able to approach and be able to free from a mindful place “Be careful not to focus on appearance or how this food will affect your weight, just how it will benefit your body,” Osowski explained.

A recovery is possible

Anzaldua and Osowski agree that recovery from an eating disorder is possible.

“I think that psychotherapy as well as nutritional counseling and other approaches that could be more centered or holistic can offer avenues for healing and recovery for anyone with an eating disorder,” Osowski said.

Christiansen said it was a privilege to receive help, which she was fortunate to have. She also said that it’s not just her that needs recovery from eating disorders, but society.

“I feel like almost everyone in society has dealt with eating disorders or thoughts about eating disorders. So I feel like the point I’m at now is to make people aware of that. Of course I’m still working on it myself, but it’s what I want to do with my life,” said Christiansen. “I want to do anything to help other people.”

If you would like to get involved with the National Eating Disorder Association, click here.

If you are seeking help for yourself or a loved one who may have an eating disorder, click here.

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Laura Coffey

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