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Eating disorders increase due to COVID-19 pandemic

Isolation is where eating disorders thrive, a doctor in St. Louis explained

ST. LOUIS — More people are seeking help for eating disorders during the coronavirus pandemic, according to medical experts.

Dr. Rebekah Freese, the director with St. Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute’s eating disorders program said she’s received more phone calls about their services since the pandemic began.

“It’s important to recognize isolation is where eating disorders thrive,” she explained.

While Missouri is not under stay-at-home orders, fewer people are leaving home. Isolation can drive anxiety, depression, OCD and trauma, which are triggers for eating disorders.

Dr. Freese said initially she received more calls about teenage patients, as families began staying home together more often.

“Parents are observant and starting to notice behaviors that are indicative,” she explained.

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However, over the last few months Dr. Freese said people of all ages are struggling. In some cases, people severely restrict what they eat. Others may binge after a trip to the grocery store.

The key in fighting an eating disorder is to seek help and not lose hope. The St. Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute offers services to create healthy grocery shopping lists, advice on developing a set routine for structure and virtual live support.

Dr. Freese also recommends limiting social media use and getting out of the house if possible.

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“If we are asking people to stay inside, the eating disorder is going to thrive on that and take hold of someone if they're not able to go out,” said Dr. Freese. “If they’re struggling with an eating disorder, they need to talk about it. They need to get out, they need to get help.”

Additional resources for those struggling with eating disorders include:

  • St. Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute (SLBMI): This institution has been offering eating disorder treatment to anyone of any age or gender since 1983. The eating disorder program offers free screenings for anyone as well as traditional outpatient and intensive outpatient services. All services are virtual at this time. For a free screening or to set up an assessment for Eating Disorders Intensive Outpatient Therapy services, please contact our intake coordinator at 636-534-6017.
  • Missouri Eating Disorder Association: The association provides community awareness and education and can be reached at 314-685-4100
  • McCallum Place–St. Louis and Alsana–St. Louis are two local residential facilities.
  • National Eating Disorders Association: This organization offers online forums, virtual support groups, online peer communities and live meal support. Helpline number is 1-800-931-2237
  • FEAST: This global support group acts as an educational community for parents who have loved ones with an eating disorder.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: If you or someone you know is in crisis, having suicidal thoughts or needs immediate assistance, help is available. Call 1-800-273-8255.