How To Help Teens Turning To Disordered Eating For Pandemic Relief

“Eating our feelings” has been a running theme for many coping with mental health struggles brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. For many isolated teens, however, eating too much or too little has become a constant source of stress.

This all falls in line with a recent U.S. academic review on adolescents, which found that the pandemic has worsened stressors linked to eating disorders: Depression, social isolation, money worries, trauma, and problems at home.

If you’re worried about your teen’s eating and want to help them cope, here’s what you should know.

The pandemic has greatly increased feelings of helplessness in our lives, which is a big factor when it comes to disordered eating and more severe eating disorders like anorexia. Aryel Maharaj of Canada’s National Eating Disorder Information Centre told CTV News that many teens calling the center have described how controlling what they ate made them feel better.

“I guess I’m feeling out-of-control of life circumstances right now and eating, and weight, is what I can control,” was how Maharaj summed up the theme of their calls.

Some teens may also feel pressured to control their food intake because of online communities and pandemic weight gain jokes; a teenager interviewed by Good Morning America said jokes that gaining more pounds, or “the COVID 15,” led her to unfollow social media accounts.

Psychology Today lists feeling anxiety over certain food groups, body dysmorphia, avoiding meal times, and obsessing over calories as possible signs.

ScaryMommy writer Clint Edwards notes that he’s seen his son over-eat more throughout the pandemic.

Teens may also show signs through what they say. Adolescent medicine specialist Hina J. Talib told the Science Times that hearing phrases like “I am so fat” and “If I gain weight, I will be disgusting” said often should be taken seriously.

“Without a proper diagnosis and intervention, young people with distorted eating behaviors can jeopardize their growth and long-term health and may even create a substance abuse problem,” the paper reported.

Mental wellness strategies like making self-care routines together and encouraging open conversations about feelings can help parents support teenagers who feel out of control.

They may also find comfort in online communities. If so, unfollowing people that make their disordered eating tendencies flare up, such as those that promote unrealistic beauty standards, can be helpful. Substituting those accounts with disordered eating recovery resources may enforce more self-compassionate thoughts and behaviors.

Many recovery pages share body-positive content teens may find uplifting when they’re feeling down or struggle with eating issues.

Kids Help Phone and similar initiatives have counselors who can listen to teens without judgement and connect them to resources if needed. And as with any emotional or mental struggle, know that it’s OK to reach out for help from a professional — like a virtual appointment with a family therapist or treatment centre — if needed.

This article originally appeared in HuffPost Canada.

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