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Parent Survival Guide: Eating disorders increase for teens during pandemic

Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 12:41 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The stress and isolation once caused by the pandemic has led to a surge in people seeking help for eating disorders.

While the country is seeing gains in the fight against COVID-19, a new fight according to the National Eating Disorders Association has been brewing since the start of the pandemic.

The association reports steep increases, of up to 78% during some months, in the number of calls and online chats for teens seeking help for eating disorders.

Monte Nido is the leading national provider of eating disorder treatment and they say they have a program especially for 12 to 17-year-olds in 13 states across the US.

“There are so many issues that it involves. People with eating disorders tend to isolate so COVID has just added to that,” Monte Nido Lead Clinician Joel Jahraus says.

He says he has seen kids even younger with eating disorders too.

“I have seen people as young as 7 and adults as old as 74 so it touches a wide age range and it also crosses wide cultural barriers,” Jahraus said.

While Jahraus sees teens with eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating, he also says he’s seeing kids with what’s called Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder or AR-FID.

It usually effects young kids and is not about a distorted body image. Instead, it is more about refusing certain foods out of fear they might choke or vomit.

He says with the lack of structure during quarantine came lifestyle changes and plenty of uncertainty.

“I have kids seven and eight going to the gym, working out and kids should be playing. These individuals will lose bodyweight and hide it with baggy clothing and walk around with baggy clothes in the hot summer. It’s these kind of things that don’t look right that’s your tip off,” Jahraus said.

Jahraus believes it’s important for parents to routinely check in with their children about how they feel regarding their body. Also discuss how images kids see online and on social media can be distorted.

“That dialogue is open and the barriers come down and they feel like they can discuss it openly and honestly,” Jahraus said. “So communicate, I think that’s one of the very best things and seeking professional help.”

Jahraus says some other early indicators to look out for when it comes to eating disorders include isolation, a preoccupation with body image, standing in the mirror constantly, or being obsessive about appearance.

More information on Monte Nido’s program can be found on their website.

Contact the National Eating Disorder Association’s help line for other questions about eating disorders.

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