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Pandemic Sparks Dramatic Rise In People Struggling With Eating Disorders

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The pandemic has sparked a dramatic rise in people struggling with eating disorders. It's among many mental health problems that increased in numbers and severity as COVID-19 swept across the country.

Hospitalizations for eating disorders doubled and even tripled in some locations during the pandemic. Experts say it's a dangerous condition that thrives when people are anxious and isolated.

"It's kind of just like this perfect storm of all these things just coming all together," 20-year-old Alyssa Wendel said.

Wendel says when the pandemic forced life to shut down, there was a flood of emotional turmoil that sent her eating disorder into overdrive.

"I am battling anorexia. So the isolation allowed me to engage in behaviors such as restriction," she said.

Wendel's situation became so dire that she was hospitalized at Philadelphia's Renfrew Center, a world-renowned treatment facility for eating disorders.

"We are seeing an increase in admissions across the board, at all levels of care," said Dr. Samantha DeCaro.

DeCaro, the director of clinical outreach at Renfrew, says the pandemic triggered many mental health disorders.

"Eating disorders thrive in isolation. They thrive during periods of change and transition, grief, loss, and so the pandemic has created the perfect conditions for the development and the maintenance of an eating disorder," she said.

People with conditions like anorexia and bulimia are susceptible to unrealistic social messaging and often struggle with control issues and low self-esteem.

"I have struggled with seeing myself obviously the way that I truly am," Wendel said.

Wendel says she was separated from her friends and dance team. The lockdown allowed her to hide her condition

"And with that isolation, nobody really was able to notice and my actions were kind of unseen so I could get away with more and things of that nature," she said.

But Wendel has recovered and is now helping Renfrew raise awareness about eating disorders and get the word out that help is available.

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