Eating disorders on the rise during COVID-19: Resources are available to help identify early signs

November 11, 2021
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By Regence

Medical experts have acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. has jeopardized physical and mental health for many. Among the behavioral health issues that has risen to alarming levels is eating disorders, especially among youth, with calls to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) helpline up 40% since March 2020.

Eating disorders are not uncommon, though their exact cause is not fully understood. Research suggests a combination of genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological and social factors can raise a person’s risk. An estimated 20 million women and 10 million men in the U.S. will have an eating disorder during their lifetime, according to NEDA.

Pandemic disruption increases factors for illness

Increased disordered eating in youths during the pandemic has been fueled by isolation caused from physical distancing and quarantine that has interfered with emotional and social development. Social media platforms can be a way to safely connect with others during times of physical distancing, but such platforms also allow for body comparisons, which can cause low self-esteem, negative body image, cyber-bulling and an unrealistic standard of what is real.

Eating disorders can affect any one

Eating disorders can affect people of all ages, racial/ethnic backgrounds, body weights and genders. Although eating disorders often appear during the teen years or young adulthood, they may also develop during childhood or later in life (40 years and older).

Eating disorders can affect a person’s physical and mental health and, in some cases, they can be life-threatening. With treatment, people can recover.

How to identify signs of an eating disorder

The best chance for recovery is early detection and treatment. Someone struggling with an eating disorder doesn’t always fit into a neat checklist. Some potential warning signs include:

  • Concern with body size and shape
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Uncomfortable eating around others
  • Food rituals like excessive chewing
  • Obsessive-compulsive tendencies
  • Noticeable fluctuations in weight, both up and down
  • Digestion complaints

Where to find help

If you or a loved one is experiencing signs of an eating disorder you may feel unsure of what to do next. One place to start is the NEDA online screening tool, which can help determine if it’s time to seek professional help. NEDA’s helpline can also help you or your loved one find the help they need, Monday through Friday via online chat, calls or text.

Regence members can access a spectrum of behavioral health resources

Whether you need occasional emotional support or ongoing mental health care, Regence has a variety of programs to prevent, identify and treat mental health and substance use disorders. Regence members who want to understand what is available under their health plan can sign in to their account on regence.com, or call us for help finding the right behavioral health resources.

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