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Stay-at-home isolation can be extra hard for those suffering from eating disorders

(Photo: KUTV){br}
(Photo: KUTV)
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It’s crucial to stay home to help fight the spread of coronavirus, but times like these can be especially hard for people who struggle with eating disorders.

WSBT 22 talked to an eating disorder specialist about what to look out for.

Many times the symptoms of eating disorders are ways of coping with other stressful situations. At times like this where there’s a huge change in routine and a lot of times we are just sitting at home with stockpiles of food, psychologists say it’s harder on people who are actively battling eating disorders and much easier for those who have recovered to relapse.

Alli Van Overberghe feels good in her own skin, but she didn’t feel that way in eighth-grade.

"I would just really, really restrict my eating, exercise size a lot, I just wasn’t sleeping, and I just lost a ton of weight and became very controlling about what I was eating. It really hindered my relationships with my friends and family."

She's now a senior at Notre Dame, and organizing South Bend's spring NEDA walk (which has been moved to a virtual walk because of the coronavirus). She overcame anorexia early in high school, but says people are naturally less active during stay-at-home, and may be looking for ways to compensate for lack of gym time.

Social media posts about gaining weight in quarantine aren’t helping either.

"It’s hard to say but I think it would’ve triggered me to just become even more restrictive of my eating, to eat even less," Overberge said of how her middle school self would have reacted to this situation.

Dr. Michelle Mannia exclusively sees patients who struggle with eating disorders and she says when posting on social media, it’s important to emphasize health over appearance.

"It’s OK to talk about those things, but when we talk about them in the context of body shape size and weight, when we talk about burning calories or exercise for the sake of punishment or dieting for the sake of trying to change our body, that’s when it becomes particularly triggering."

She says you can’t tell someone’s struggling with food just by looking at them.

"There’s no size or shape for someone who has an eating disorder, so what we are really looking for is changes in behavior, which is really difficult at a time like this when we are all changing our behavior," said Dr. Mannia. "So we want to make sure ourselves and the people around us are not skipping meals, talking negatively about themselves or their weight, not obsessing about food, and that were able to find some of that balance."

She says to avoid categorizing foods as “good” or “bad." And if you notice someone is struggling — let them know you’ve noticed, and you care.

"If they deny it or don’t want to talk about, it simply let them know that you’re available when and if they are ready or if they do need you," said Dr. Mannia. "The more that you are willing to label yourself as a safe person who is willing to talk, the more likely they are to reach out for you for support in the future."

Overberghe says the best thing her friends did to help her in the past is show love and compassion.

"They are not making a conscious choice to behave this way, it’s something that has gotten out of their control. Eating disorders are a mental illness they are not something that is just choosing not to eat."

Another thing Dr. Mannia said is that eating disorders -- and many other mental illnesses -- thrive when we are in isolation.

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So even if we’re physically distant with our friends, it’s more important than ever to still connect and talk to each other.

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