Eating Disorder Rates Sky-Rocketed During the COVID-19 Pandemic

See your doctor if you suspect you or a loved one might have ARFID. Your doctor will ask about medical history, eating habits, and emotional issues and obtain lab tests and EKG to create an optimal care plan for treating AFRID.

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The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic dramatically altered daily life for many Americans and showed an alarming rise in eating disorders. The National Eating Disorder Associations Helpline reported a 70-80% increase in calls during the pandemic. In addition, it accelerated enrolment rates in eating disorder treatment programs and hospital admission due to low weight, imbalanced electrolytes, and unstable vital signs. According to Psychiatrist Christina Waite, MD, Medical Director for Psychiatry at Miami Valley Hospital," The pandemic had taken control away from so many Americans by altering social and physical environments. So, individuals look for something they can control."

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) is one of the eating disorders that became prominent during the pandemic. Symptoms associated with ARFID are gagging, choking, and vomiting while eating. Sensory sensitivity, fear of aversive consequences, and lack of interest in eating or food result in restricting food intake to avoid unpleasant episodes. Eventually, the feeling of hunger stops, and the body stops craving food. "Eating disorders not only affect you physically. They also affect the brain," Dr. Waite explains. "When your body is malnourished, your brain shrinks, which causes distorted thinking and judgment." Unlike anorexia or bulimia, body dysmorphic eating disorders are motivated by weight and body shape. ARFID sufferers want to eat to maintain weight and cognitive functioning. However, the cycle of restricting and avoiding food intake continues.

In most cases, deterioration of the body and brain functioning became obvious in weight loss, impaired growth, nutritional deficiencies, required nutritional supplements, and severe disruptions in functioning.

Interventions to increase adequate calories for a healthy body and brain needs can include

  • Be patient when eating meals. Use small portions and bite sizes to minimize symptoms associated with eating. It can take 2 hours to finish a meal; that is fine. The goal is to get the calories into the body for sustenance. Drinking water to aid swallowing is helpful.
  • Introduce supplements that are high in calories, protein bars, or shakes. Choosing nutrient-dense food and drinks can help improve your calorie intake without making larger portion-size meals.
  • Find or obtain a referral for a Registered Dietitian (RD) who specializes in eating disorders. Partnering with an RD is beneficial for advice, support, and resources, developing a personalized, nutritionally balanced meal plan, monitoring progress, and working with other health professionals to help support the overall ARFID treatment and the recovery process.
  • No medications have proven to treat ARFID, nor has any drug been approved by the FDA to treat ARFID. Your Medical Provider may prescribe a medication off-label for symptoms of ARFID. Megestrol acetate, oxandrolone, and dronabinol are the only FDA-approved drugs to stimulate appetite. Side effects of some drugs act as an appetite stimulant which your Medical Provider may prescribe.
  • Cognitive Therapy has been effective in treating some eating disorders. A new specialized Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT-AR) is currently in clinical trials. An early report revealed in 2020 that 70% of participants no longer meet the criteria for diagnosing ARFID.  "Occupational therapists complete a full assessment," Occupational Therapist Sarah Bence explains. The assessment includes "sensory, motor, developmental, environmental, cultural, and behavioral factors that could impair eating." 
  • Speech Therapist assessment includes swallowing difficulties (dysphagia). Exercises help improve the comfortable swallowing of different textures. 

Support Groups with a focus solely on ARFID are essential. Before the AFRID diagnosis' addition to the DSM in 2013, most eating disorder support groups focused on changing one's body image of themselves. Finding a Support group emphasizing learning how to use the refeeding process is crucial. The shared experiences, resources, and support from the group are immeasurable.   


References/Resources

Blame COVID-19 For Spike In Eating Disorders: Premier Health

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): National Eating Disorders Association

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): KidsHealth

How Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) Is Treated: Verywell Health

Twenty-seven years ago, Kim started her nursing career at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, working on an acute care floor for eight years. Children's Hospital paid for Kim to receive her Bachelor's Degree and achieve the title of Cum Laude, which enabled Kim to accept a position as a Case Manager for two years. Kim started her Aesthetics Nurse career in 2006 and has worked for the last seventeen years. Kim enrolled in a Freelance Nurse Writing program in December 2022.

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Specializes in Occupational Health. Has 19 years experience.
The Writing RN 4U said:

Symptoms associated with ARFID are gagging, choking, and vomiting while eating.

I've noticed a direct correlation of these symptoms with my MIL's cooking.

Coincidence?...I think not...

The Writing RN 4U

1 Article; 3 Posts

Specializes in Aesthetics. Has 27 years experience.

Thanks for reading my article.  Who or What is MIL's? 

Rose_Queen, BSN, MSN, RN

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Specializes in OR, Nursing Professional Development. Has 18 years experience.
The Writing RN 4U said:

Thanks for reading my article.  Who or What is MIL's? 

Mother in law

JKL33

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Quote

See your doctor if you suspect you or a loved one might have ARFID. Your doctor will ask about medical history, eating habits, and emotional issues and obtain lab tests and EKG to create an optimal care plan for treating AFRID.

1st thought: Oh yay, another acronym

2nd thought: Better find out what it stands for so I will be able to create optimal care plan

3rd thought:

The Writing RN 4U said:

Who or What is MIL's?  

🤣