Eating Disorders Awareness Week: More seeking help during pandemic, local dietitian says

Mental health advocates focus on curing the stigma this National Mental Illness Awareness Week
Posted at 7:08 AM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-24 08:54:23-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Like so many others during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mary Dye is working from home, opting for virtual meetings with clients over in-person at her Virginia Beach Town Center office.

But that hasn't slowed things down. Actually, Dye is as busy as ever.

"It's really hard to tell people, 'I'm sorry, I'm full. I can't take a case' and just referring people to larger networks of eating disorder professionals," said Dye, a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist Dietitian. "We're all feeling it."

Dye says under COVID-19 more people are struggling with and seeking help for disordered eating.

Common types of eating disorders include those involving restricted eating like anorexia nervosa or the binging and purging that comes with bulimia nervosa or even binge eating on its own.

But there are a number of other different, less known types of disorders, like orthorexia, which Dye says she's seen really take off during the pandemic.

"This idea of a really unhealthy obsession with "health" foods and the quality of foods. Less to do with quantity and portions, but more to do with what that food is made of," she said. "Everything has to meet the (healthy) criteria and it becomes very isolating. For some of our people it'll actually lead to malnutrition itself because it'll cut out entire categories of food."

Dye tells News 3 one major challenge of working with eating disorder patients during the pandemic, particularly with kids and teens, is a lack of structure that can aid in recovery.

There's also been a lot of talk of weight and gaining weight during COVID-19 that can have negative impacts on mental health.

She says it's important people watch how often they think about food intake, exercise, how their clothes are fitting and what their body looks like.

"If that's a passing thought here and there, okay, it's not interfering or interrupting quality of life or other activities," she said. "Once that starts to take over more and more space mentally, we're getting to have something we want to pay attention to there."

This year, February 22-28 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week where the slogan is 'Every body has a seat at the table.'

That touches on the difficulties of treating eating disorders, Dye says, especially when society is so quick to praise weight loss, eating only the healthiest foods and exercise, even if it's excessive.

"In the process of recovery, we are speaking a language of all foods fit, all bodies fit. Everyone is worthy to have positive experiences around food and movement and in their bodies," she said.

Even though she doesn't always have space to add new clients, Dye says she's committed to finding help for anyone battling an eating disorder.

Her message? Anyone can have an unhealthy struggle with food and body image, regardless of gender, race, age and sexual orientation and recovery is always possible.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, Stay Strong Virginia and the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness are two resources that can help.