The pandemic has been hard on everyone, to say the least. It’s unbelievable this has happened, that so many loved ones have been lost, and it will have an indelible impact on all our lives.
Studies are now showing the effects of pandemic, and it’s not good. One study published in the JAMA Network Open showed hospitalizations for eating disorders have doubled during the first year of the pandemic. The study collected data from more than 3,250,000 people from Jan. 1, 2018 to Dec.31, 2020. By March 2020 the hospitalizations had doubled.
The data also showed that the number of younger people hospitalized increased and that a person stayed in the hospital longer from an average of eight or nine days to 12 days. Another study published in the International Journal for Eating Disorders in July 2020 showed that 62 percent of people surveyed with anorexia had more severe food fear during the pandemic. The number was 30 percent among people with bulimia and binge eating disorder.
This isn’t surprising to me. I have binge eating disorder, and I have struggled greatly to control it. It has been my go-to coping mechanism for more than a decade. My disordered eating is triggered by stress and anxiety, which has been plentiful in the past year and a half. Obviously I’m not alone.
Experts say the increasing numbers are likely due to stress, isolation, social media use and changes in interactions with family, according to the website Very Well Health. For me, it’s also the uncertainty and change in routine that triggers my binges. My anxiety forces me to plan ahead, and I just can’t do that right now. Nobody can. I need structure to feel in control and maintain my mental health, and I’m not getting it.
So when I feel like I’ve lost control, I turn to eating. I swallow my feelings and chase that high I get when I taste something, anything. And while I’m aware this isn’t healthy, sometimes I can’t help it. It’s a compulsion. Eating disorders aren’t a choice we make; they are mental disorders.
What I — and millions of others — need is grace. Somewhere along the line I used binge eating to cope. It was about survival, and it served me to do so. It’s no different now. I’m not endorsing disordered eating, but I understand it. I understand doing anything you can to survive all too well. I have a litany of unhealthy coping strategies, and sometimes it’s just easier to turn to what you know. It’s been incredibly difficult to change my ways.
But we have to try. Who knows how long the pandemic will last, and we can’t, or shouldn’t, rely on unhealthy coping methods to get us through. Easier said than done.
If you’re battling an eating disorder and losing, that’s okay. I honor your fight and you should, too. Do what you need to do to survive but know there is help. These studies prove we’re not alone. So many of us are struggling in silence, but we don’t have to. Reach out to a friend or call/text the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) hotline at 800-931-2237. You can find free support groups on its website as well. Facebook also has many groups for various eating disorders.
Do your best, and if that looks like disordered eating, again, that’s okay. But consider long-term survival. Make baby steps to stay healthy, seek help and know you are not alone. Remember your body is your home and that you must take care of it.
My eating disorder has given me comfort for so long, but I have to try to be healthier. It feels like I’m losing my security blanket, and it makes me feel wildly out of control, but I acknowledge it’s not food I’m shoving in my mouth, it’s my emotions.
And they’re hard to swallow, but swallow I must.
For more than 20 years, Heather Loeb has experienced major depression, anxiety and a personality disorder, while also battling the stigma of mental health. She is the creator of Unruly Neurons (www.unrulyneurons.com), a blog dedicated to normalizing depression and a member of State Rep. Todd Hunter’s Suicide Prevention Taskforce.
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This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: Hospitalizations for eating disorders doubled during pandemic 1st year