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Experts stress awareness as need for eating disorder support rises amid pandemic

Posted at 1:18 PM, Feb 25, 2021

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which is a time to bring focus to eating disorders and connect people with life-saving support. That support is essential right now as the National Eating Disorders Association says calls and messages to its helpline rose drastically over the last year.

“Starting in March, we had a 40 percent increase in our contacts accessing support from our national helpline and we’ve seen an 85 percent increase in those contacts reaching out for support over our chat messenger,” said Lauren Smolar, NEDA’s senior director of programs.

Smolar says they weren't surprised with the increase given the mental health impacts the pandemic brought. When in-person programs, groups and therapy sessions shut down early on, she says people were looking for new support or treatment.

“There were also people who may have previously been in recovery who were finding they now needed some additional support with everything going on, as well as people who may not have previously reached out for support before,” said Smolar. “They may not have been aware that they had a problem and with the pandemic and the additional stress recognized that they really were in need of some additional support.”

Smolar says another thing that's contributing to eating disorder struggles is the rise in virtual meetings, which means people are online more and exposed to social media posts with altered photos and messages that may not be body positive.

On the flip side though, Smolar said virtual therapy has helped people who found it easier to access the support they need by eliminating barriers like travel.

Candice Tufano, a registered dietician with CHI Saint Joseph Health, says being home more can make it easier for household members to see the signs of an eating disorder.

“Skipping meals or skipping snacks that they were previously interested in. Hiding food or doing any kind of secretive behavior around food or eating,” said Tufano.

Neda has even set up a COVID-19 page of resources and forums to connect with others, showing that during a difficult time, support is still there.