CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — We've talked about how the pandemic can stimulate addictions and unhealthy mental tendencies. That includes eating disorders in our kids, and the direct connection that has to our mental health.
The Emily Program is a national eating disorder recovery center with a location in Cleveland Heights. Jillian Lampert is the Chief Strategy Officer there and says things like the isolation, restrictions and anxiety from the pandemic are breeding grounds for an eating disorder to grow.
"Our phone calls and web visits at the Emily Program have doubled in the pandemic," Lampert says.
She also says social media is a huge influence in kids and teens because it can trick the mind into thinking someone else's life is better.
"I’m getting all these negative comments and maybe I should do something to change my body so I stop getting all the negative comments. Or I get positive comments and people say 'Oh, you look this that or the other thing' and I think I should do more of that. So the environmental messaging really influences our behavior."
Mark Schindler came to the Emily Program while in college as an aspiring boxer. He became obsessed with weight cutting, trying to be better than any of his competition.
"I was like, 'all right, I'm gonna have one spoonful of peanut butter and then I’m gonna go on this run,' because I hadn't eaten anything in like a day and a half because my weight wasn't where it needed to be on the scale – or where I thought I needed it to be – or the disease was telling me.”
But he didn't realize he was losing the most important fight for his own life.
"I ended up having one bite of peanut butter. I just kind of blacked out and I was sobbing on the floor with an empty jar of peanut butter next to me."
You may think his story, like many others, is connected to mental health because of the control aspect of an eating disorder.
Turns out, that's a false stigma.
"The two likely other things, like somebody who gets an eating disorder are pre-disposed to, are anxiety and depression," Lampert says. "They don't go seeking an eating disorder to get control. They feel out of control and change the way they eat because lots of people do. And in the course of that change, they feel more in control. So the control is a side effect."
Lampert says parents should pay attention to warning signs like:
- Strange mood swings
- Skipping out on family meals
- Asking for different or odd foods more frequently
- Disappearing food in your home
If you see any of these signs, do not wait to find help.
"I know people who have died a year after having an eating disorder, I know people who have died 25 years after having an eating disorder, it's not generally obvious," Lampert says.
"You have to get help," Schindler agrees. "Because if I had not gotten help, I probably would not be alive right now."
There are five studied and official types of eating disorders to know about.
- Binge eating
- Avoidant or restrictive food intake disorder (or being an extremely picky eater)
- "Other": Any sub-form or combination of these disorders
There are many sub-categories of each disorder, too. If you or someone you know may suffer from any of these, or wants to know more about them, the Emily Program offers offers daily treatment, 24/7 retreat care, outpatient care and virtual appointments.
You can also learn more about Mark Schindler's story -- and know you are not alone -- in his podcast with the Emily Program, called Peace Meal. Listen to it HERE.