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Lenexa recovery center responds to spike in eating disorders

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Posted at 7:49 PM, May 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-06 20:49:54-04

LENEXA, Kan. — May is National Mental Health Awareness month, and a Lenexa recovery center is trying to bring attention to a category of mental illness that has grown drastically worse during the pandemic – eating disorders.

The founders of Bellatore Recovery, which treats people for eating disorders, said they have had a spike in calls from people seeking treatment.

"In the last year, things have just kind of gotten chaotic and out of control as far as mental health and eating disorders," Brooke Wesley, Bellatore co-founder, said.

It's part of a nationwide trend. The National Eating Disorders Association reported a 41% increase in messages to its phone and online helplines in January 2021, compared to January 2020.

Bellatore co-founder Kirsten Oeklaus said there are several reasons why the pandemic has caused the spike in eating disorders.

For some people, the stress of isolation and changing routines might have pushed them toward an eating disorder as a coping mechanism. For others, the disorder might have already been there, but it wasn't as noticeable because of busy schedules.

"There might be normal ways that our schedule held us accountable," Oeklaus said. "For instance, you have lunchtime at work, when other people are taking their lunch and at school... Just the normal support that coworkers or fellow students may have in creating a sense of normalcy around meals is extremely important."

In teenagers, Oeklaus and Wesley have noticed a significant impact from social media. Specifically, they said teens were being influenced by the flood of videos and accounts promoting how to lose "quarantine weight."

"There's tons of reinforcement and comparison that happens, whether it's on Instagram or TikTok, or any of those things," Wesley said. "So the assessments that I'm doing, almost all of the teens picked up some sort of nutrition advice from somebody on social media, or some sort of exercise advice from somebody on social media – and that really exacerbated what was likely already a predisposition to an eating disorder that may not have been activated yet."

The signs of an eating disorders can vary from person to person. But generally, Oeklaus said, if someone spends the majority of their day thinking about food or exercise, they may have a problem.

Other signs include restricting certain foods, being uncomfortable eating around others and withdrawal from usual friends and activities. More information can be found on the NEDA website.

For those who are struggling, or have a loved one struggling, it's important to reach out for professional help to address the illness before it gets worse, or, potentially, deadly. According to the Eating Disorders Coalition, someone dies as a direct results of an eating disorder every 62 minutes in America.

There are several things, in addition to seeking professional help, that people can do to cope with an eating disorder.

Oeklaus said she encourages clients to maintain meaningful connections as a way to hold themselves accountable to healthy behaviors, particularly after a year of isolation for many people.

"I think reaching out for any source of connection, even if that other person doesn't know why they are serving as accountability – taking a walk with friends outside is different level of accountability than doing it on your own," Oeklaus said. "So connection, I think, is probably the biggest key for people right now."

Wesley recommended taking a step back from outside influences and finding a way to stay grounded.

"So much of the eating disorder is taking us outward: 'How do I look? What am I eating? Where am I going? What do I have to avoid so nobody knows?' So that's outward," she said. "If we can go inward and go, 'What connects me to my soul? Do I need to be reading something? Do I need to be listening to music? Do I need to be connecting with meditation?' Because ultimately, that is what's going to help us truly heal is, first, addressing the behaviors but secondly, connecting with who we are as a human."

If you or a loved one are struggling with an eating disorder, here are some resources to help:
Bellatore: 913-725-0095
National Eating Disorder Association: 800-931-2237
Crisis text line: text "NEDA" to 741741