Millions of people in the United States suffer from eating disorders, and experts say the pandemic has impacted those battling with them especially hard.
"This is incredibly hard for people struggling with eating disorders," explained Caley Featherstone, a therapist specializing in eating disorder treatment.
Isolation and secrecy are markers of eating disorders, according to Featherstone. When people with eating disorders are forced into isolation, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, the triggers can get worse.
"Right now as we're forced into a type of isolation, that is going to trigger--our mirror neurons are going to trigger that same type of isolation," Featherstone said.
Experts explain eating disorders are mental health disorders characterized by an obsession with food and weight and a person's body.
Experts say, on the surface, eating disorders appear to be about food and eating, but the person is actually attempting to numb, manage, and control uncomfortable emotions.
"We have this situation where there's such a tiny amount of control--or no control at all. There's this large unknown, this vast unknown," Featherstone said.
Featherstone says the data proves finding ways to make connections is a huge part of healing--it can even be the deciding factor in recovery.
"Connection has been one of the leading factors in addiction research, addiction recovery, as well as eating disorder recovery," Featherstone said. "Connection is so important. Finding a connection with someone, at least one other person."
Treatment for eating disorders has had to evolve because of the pandemic, but with teletherapy, Featherston believes more people will feel comfortable seeking treatment.
"I think that the barrier of going to a therapy office and waiting in a therapy waiting room is gone now. It might be just talking to someone over Zoom, and that might feel a lot less intimidating," Featherstone said. "I think that's removed some of that stigma, or some of that barrier, that now, really we're seeing that therapy is talking to people--it's connecting. It's learning skills. All the scary stuff we've envisioned around that has been taken away through teletherapy. Really we're just talking to someone else and connecting."
If you or someone you know might be struggling with an eating disorder, know you do not have to struggle alone. To find a professional in your area to connect with or for immediate help, click here.