WASHINGTON — As the pandemic continues, experts worry eating disorders may be getting worse.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, the ongoing pandemic has led to a 78% increase in calls for help compared to a year ago.
"For me, treating eating disorders are all the same. If somebody is overeating or undereating, it’s all the same disease it’s just a different manifestation of the same ailment," said local psychotherapist and college professor Paula D. Atkinson.
Atkinson said she has seen an increase in the number of calls to her office since the start of the pandemic.
"I’m getting two to three inquiries a day from people who are struggling or from parents who have sons or daughters who are struggling," said Atkinson. "Everything feels out of control and different and weird and unprecedented, it’s scary."
Atkinson said six months of quarantine and isolation has led to all kinds of impacts.
"It’s so frustrating to me to watch social media and watch all media have this obsession with getting smaller and toning up and making your body be a certain shape," said Atkinson. "Bodies just come in different sizes and you can be healthy at every size."
Atkinson said it is important to reach out for help because eating disorders thrive in isolation.
"Ask for help. Please reach out for help. The National Eating Disorders Association is incredible. What an incredible resource they are," said Atkinson.
Atkinson also suggests taking care of your mental health during this challenging season.
"Your mind and your body are not separate things. They are the same thing and so anything that’s making you insane is making you unhealthy," said Atkinson. "Your relationship with your body is actually what will lead you to health and sanity and peace."
One way to monitor the images you are exposed to is by analyzing what is showing up on your social media feeds. Atkinson suggests following hashtags on social media that are anti-diet and body positive.
"It really does change your brain to see bodies of all shapes and sizes and to recognize that all bodies are valid and wonderful as they exist in this moment," said Atkinson.
Atkinson said it is also important to stay in the community.
"You really connect with other people when you get to talk about your experiences and also learn more about how to free yourself from diet culture. It’s been really powerful," said Atkinson.
Atkinson is starting a virtual support group to help people break free of the diet culture. To learn more or contact Atkinson, click here.