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Need for eating disorder treatment during the pandemic is higher than ever

Posted at 1:13 PM, Mar 05, 2021

Medical experts blame the pandemic for a huge increase in the number of people seeking eating disorder treatment.

“The genetics load the gun, societal factors pull the trigger, but it has to be triggered,” said Dr. Joel Jahraus, who is also known as "Dr. J".

He's the chief medical officer for 26 eating disorder clinics in 13 states and says wait lists are spanning 6 to 8 weeks, at every location across the country.

The need for help, he says, is huge.

“If you look at what triggers eating disorders, it’s anxiety, its trauma, it’s depression, other factors, all of that comes together to feed the eating disorder.”

It doesn't discriminate, he says, as the increase is across all age ranges.

“I think that having struggles with mental health were situated for me often around my eating disorder as we know about eating disorders the food and body image are really not ever the root of the problem, it's always something more than that," said Schuyler Bailar, the country's first trans athlete on any NCAA D1 Men's team.

He's on the other side of those struggles and is now a transgender advocate, an author, speaker, life coach and consultant.

“I didn’t realize I was transgender until I was out of high school, I was struggling with my mental health during high school while I was competing, and I had to take a break from swimming and a break from school and take a gap year to work on my mental health.”

Bailar says, once he started working on himself, he found the anxiety and depression beneath the eating disorder.

He's lost friends to the disorder and wants others to know there is hope and an end in sight.

“I think it’s really easy to think recovery is impossible, it's really easy to be complacent in your own misery and sometimes misery is oddly comfortable and you’re like, 'I know this, I know how to be here,' and the prospect to take a risk to potentially be happy is terrifying and I know that because I’ve been in that space," Bailar said.

Dr. J, who has nearly three decades of experience in this area, says the treatment is long. There's no quick fix and there are a lot of layers of repair.

“You have to dive deep to get to the root of a problem if you’re ever going to achieve lasting recovery, it’s like peeling off the layers of an onion to get to your core issue," Dr. J said.

Bailar says you can get there, as long as you're able to take the first step toward recovery.

“When people think that eating disorder recovery is impossible, they’re wrong. And they don’t have to believe that for themselves, they can believe us, they can believe people around them, recovery is 100% possible and I’m here to confirm that.”