Pandemic Fueled a Sharp Rise in Eating Disorders, Bay Area Experts Say

Eating disorders have increased dramatically nationwide, with the National Eating Disorders Association reporting a 78% increase to its helpline since March 2020.

Locally, too, clinicians and programs are seeing unprecedented spikes. At UCSF, the number of those hospitalized has doubled since the pandemic began, and across the Bay Area, psychotherapists and other clinicians are struggling to keep up with a mounting need.

Experts say the unique and highly disruptive circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic — including isolation, stockpiling, stress and bombardment from social media — have exacerbated what had already become its own epidemic.

Teenagers and young adults have been hit the hardest, as COVID-19 stunted so much of their burgeoning independence. Thousands of students were forced to return from college, live at home again and forgo the adventures of young adulthood indefinitely.

Amrita, an intensive outpatient program for eating disorders in San Rafael, has been inundated with calls for treatment. Founder and program director Carol Normandi said she’s seen clients who dropped 20 pounds in just a few months because the wait times for help are so long, and clients have even fewer distractions and outlets than they did before the pandemic.

“The weight loss is more intensive and quicker because they’re not engaged in their normal life,” Normandi said. “COVID has just complicated the fuel on the fire with eating disorders because it’s something you can do and control within the confines of your own home.”

The remote lifestyle has upended normal routines of mobility and eating in community, and can be an environment conducive to binge, restrict or overexercise.

But that’s not the only thing exacerbating the issue. The larger collective isolation experience online — with fitness videos and challenges galore — has created even more shaming and comparison around weight gain, clinicians say.

With quarantine has come an intense online focus on bodies — whether it’s people sharing their elaborate fitness and meal routines, spending hours looking into what is essentially a mirror on Zoom, influencers peddling products to lose weight, or people struggling to accept the weight they might have gained over quarantine (which some are calling the “quarantine 15” or “COVID 19”).

That attention has been magnified as people spend an increasing amount of time on social media. The result has been an even more triggering environment for those who were already fixating unhealthily on their bodies, said Leora Fulvio, a San Francisco therapist who specializes in eating disorders.

“Those images of appearance, of weight loss, of dieting, that inundation they’re experiencing is rewiring their minds,” said Normandi, the program director at Amrita. “It’s brainwashing them in a way that’s tipped the scale.”

Excerpted from “Pandemic Fueling a Sharp Rise in Eating Disorders, Bay Area Experts Say” in the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the full article to learn about helpful resources that are available for those who are struggling or know someone who might be.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle | Pandemic Fueling a Sharp Rise in Eating Disorders, Bay Area Experts Say, | ©2021 Hearst
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