More than 30 million women and men in the United States suffer from eating disorders. COVID-19 can be a nightmare for them, setting off triggers that send them spiraling. Add on top of that the stress of the approaching holidays, and the combo can become life-threatening.
The photos are shocking. Grown women surviving on a few hundred calories a day.
“That really scared me. And I was really tired and just felt a lot of continual pain,” said Lydia Rhino, who is recovering from anorexia.
The 26-year-old has been struggling with her weight for the past six years.
“It also turned very quickly and led me down a path that was not going to be sustainable,” said Rhino.
The stresses of college and a bad breakup began Lydia’s path into anorexia.
“It was just a lot based around just control,” said Rhino.
Now in active recovery, the pandemic tested her priorities again.
“I got really just nervous,” said Rhino.
“The isolation is already a challenge for patients with eating disorders,” said Elizabeth Easton, a Clinical Psychologist at Eating Recovery Center.
The National Eating Disorder Association reports a 78% increase to their helpline since the pandemic started.
“To not be able to see caregivers, to be able to have people come support them in meals, then to be scared to even seek treatment, is it going to be safe to go out?” said Easton.
Other pandemic triggers: empty grocery store shelves, the unknown, and social media.
“For many of them, they are getting bombarded with even more messages around ‘be careful around how your body looks and what you’re eating,’” said Easton.
Seventy percent of people who are now struggling with an eating disorder don’t seek help.
“My greatest fear is that they’ll wait too long to reach out to anyone,” said Easton.
During COVID, virtual therapy sessions have been a lifesaver for Lydia.
“I don’t think that I would be in the mental and head space that I am now without being able to just like surrender to doing it virtually,” said Rhino.
During a pandemic or not, remember: “You don’t have to suffer alone,” Easton said.
Signs to look out for: someone using negative comments about their bodies or other people’s bodies, having extreme emotional responses, wearing larger clothing, avoiding any and all social situations.
As restaurants start to re-open, they might also express an exaggerated fear of going out.
For several free services for people battling an eating disorder or for their caregivers, check out www.nationaleatingdisorders.org