Coronavirus outbreak creates challenges in treating people with eating disorders

Posted at 7:18 AM, Apr 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-01 07:33:33-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Mary Dye would normally meet clients at her office in the Virginia Beach Town Center, but she hasn't had an in-person meeting in more than two weeks.

Dye, the area's only Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian, says the coronavirus has forced her to come up with creative ways to continue treatment.

"I am incredibly grateful for telehealth and telemedicine. I'll say many of my clients have been able to meet with me remotely via a lot of secure HIPAA-compliant platforms," Dye tells News 3. "A lot of positives have come out of the remote sessions. Some insight into their lives that I wouldn't have had before."

The ability to meet virtually is critical because regardless of whether Dye's clients struggle with anorexia, binge eating or another eating disorder, she warns it could put them more at-risk for catching coronavirus.

"Everyone that comes through my door is in some way malnourished and anytime we're malnourished, we're in some capacity immuno-compromised," she said. "(It's) not uncommon at all for my client's labs to reflect a low white blood cell count for instance, a low immunity, or low vitamin levels in their blood so they're going to be more susceptible to catching a virus."

That's why it's especially important for someone with an eating disorder to stay home, but Dye says the at-home environment can be triggering.

"It can feel very out of our control, all of this that's going on, so sometimes a person may have a tendency to illicit some of that control through the one thing they can control; what's going in and out of their body," she said.

Dye also points to social media posts centering around food and exercise as a source of pressure for her clients.

Still, she says, a lot of good has come out of a seemingly impossible situation, like numerous virtual support groups.

"We also now have a round-the-clock meal support site through Instagram that people can sign onto and join a community, if they're struggling with getting their meals and snacks in and just see other people that are kind of in the same boat and reach out that way," she said.