Eating disorders spiraling during the pandemic, experts say
SPRINGVILLE, Utah – Eating disorders will affect 29- million Americans in their lifetime. Being out of a routine and living in an uncertain world has led to abnormal eating, especially among teens. A psychiatrist explains how parents can help.
When it comes to food, Rachel Jackson speaks intentionally with her kids. “We choose our words very carefully,” said Jackson, who lives in Springville. “Using the term, ‘fun food,’ versus ‘junk food,’ or ‘bad food.’ ‘nutrient-dense,’ versus ‘healthy food.'”
Jackson had an eating disorder for 20 years.
“There was a general feeling of being unacceptable in my body,” she said.
Eating disorders can be genetic, and worsened by stress, scientists said. Anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder are on the rise nationally.
Hospitalizations nearly doubled during the second half of 2020, and those admitted had 50% longer stays, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported in JAMA Network Open.
According to experts at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, they’re among the deadliest mental illnesses, second only to opioid overdose.
“More people turn towards their eating disorders during this time of stress and uncertainty,” said Dr. Kristin Francis, a psychiatrist at Huntsman Mental Health Institute.
She said there are things parents can do to promote healthy relationships with food.
PROMOTE A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD
- Avoid commenting on a child’s appearance. “We’re all used to saying, ‘This as my tall child, my short little child,’ noticing changes in our children’s bodies as they age, but to focus on instead, internal attributes,’” Francis said.
- Focus on function and ability to promote self-esteem, rather than weight or size. “How their bodies help them move, how they feel, how having a sense of mastery over what their bodies can help them do in terms of sports, learning,” she said.
- Also, encourage health-promoting behaviors. “Eating a variety of foods, eating with friends and family, not feeling shame or guilt when you eat foods that might be seen as, you know, higher-calorie foods,” Francis said. And set a good example. Avoid talking about your weight or dieting in front of them.
Jackson is now in recovery. Through therapy, education, and avoiding triggers, she feels better than ever.
“Reading helpful books, unfollowing unhelpful social media accounts, and following helpful ones,” she said.
She hopes her kids can focus on joy, no matter what stressors in life come their way.
Francis recommended a book called, “Help your Teenager Beat an Eating Disorder,” by James Lock and Daniel Le Grange.
You can also find more helpful information here.
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