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Eating disorder symptoms rise during the pandemic

Posted at 4:00 PM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 17:00:55-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — “I think the pandemic has definitely unveiled a lot of issues around food,” said Dr. Daniel Gih, a psychiatrist at UNMC.

CBS News said that the National Eating Disorders Association has seen a rise of 40% in calls to their helpline since last March.

Dr. Gih adds there could be an assortment of reasons for the increase.

“Some of them are engaged in restrictive eating, so just even finding food to get, especially if they have food insecurity or shortages of food in their local supermarkets can certainly make things worse. Similarly, people who are around food all day long now that we don’t have our usual social contacts may be engaging in more binging,” said Gih.

These disorders impact people of every body type and have the potential to be very dangerous.

“I guess the important thing is that people can struggle no matter how they look or how they present to you,” said Gih.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, about 28 million people in America suffer from an eating disorder. It’s the second-deadliest mental illness, resulting in approximately one death every hour.

“It looks like right now we have some of the data coming out of 2020 saying that 38% of patients that have diagnosed eating disorders are reporting an increase in eating disorder behaviors. We also see 52% of them are increasing in their anxiety level,” said Jessica Wegener, a dietitian with Positive Nutrition, who works with patients who have disordered eating.

“I saw the most patients in March and April last year when this all was starting and we’re still seeing the effects of that right now,” Wegener said.

Both Gih and Wegener said a team approach is often needed to treat eating disorders.

However, Gih added that despite eating disorders impacting up to 10% of the population, mental health professionals often don’t have adequate training treating them.

“You can’t always just refer someone with a concern to anyone you find in a phone book so to speak, you have to do a little digging,” Gih said.

One technique Gih suggests to those struggling with disordered eating is for them to have a meal companion, even if it’s over Zoom.

See more resources on eating disorders below.

Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD)

Nebraska Eating Disorders Network (NEDN)

National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)

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