Pandemic Has Devastating Impact on Adolescent Girls Who Have Eating Disorders

The pandemic has undoubtedly been tough on teenagers, and now experts have the data showing the actual impact. The major finding: these past two years have had a devastating effect on adolescent girls who have eating disorders.

Emergency Room Visits Spike

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report that said that, compared with 2019, emergency room visits doubled in 2020 for adolescent girls ages 12-17 who are suffering from eating disorders.

To put that in perspective, someone who goes to the emergency room because of the symptoms of an eating disorder is likely in a state of crisis. They may need professional support to regain emotional stability, or they might be experiencing severe physical symptoms related to the eating disorder, such as:

  • Dehydration
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood sugar irregularities
  • Fainting or dizziness

Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder can cause any number of symptoms, so these are just some of the reasons why an adolescent girl may have visited an emergency room in 2020. Whatever the reason, what we do know is that teen girls were struggling with these conditions more than ever before because of the pandemic.

Pandemic Risk Factors
The lived experiences of adolescent girls across the country are incredibly diverse, and their struggles with eating disorders are just as unique. But the CDC report does suggest that there are some factors related to the pandemic that may have increased many teen girls’ chances of developing an eating disorder during this time, including loss of their daily routines, food insecurity, and emotional distress.

Everything became uncertain in the early days of the pandemic, and lockdown measures lasted longer than anyone could have imagined. For adolescent girls, that meant missing major life milestones and the everyday camaraderie of friends. To fill that gap, many turned to social media, where they were inundated with troubling messages about dieting and body image.

And as schools closed and people began to panic-buy, food wasn’t always as readily available anymore. People who hadn’t struggled with food insecurity before were facing empty grocery store shelves or the fear of going out to do the shopping themselves. For some, this led to a feast-or-famine approach to eating that they couldn’t shake once food was more accessible again.

Through it all, the pandemic brought out a lot of intense emotions. People were afraid, stressed, and overwhelmed, but there weren’t many outlets to help them manage those feelings. Mental health providers were at capacity, and telehealth options were just starting to become available.

It’s no wonder many adolescent girls turned to food during that time to numb such intense feelings. But when they had no other ways to cope, that habit soon transitioned to a disorder.

Getting Help Early On
Given these findings, it’s more important than ever to spot the warning signs that a teen girl might be struggling with an eating disorder so that you can get her professional help before she is in crisis. Each eating disorder has different symptoms, but these are some common signs that an adolescent girl might be suffering from an eating disorder:

  • She has become obsessed with her weight, her body shape, or dieting
  • She refuses to eat certain foods or highly restricts what she eats
  • She seems uncomfortable eating around other people
  • Her weight keeps fluctuating drastically either up or down
  • Her mood is unusually unpredictable or intense
  • She stops spending time with friends or family
  • She struggles to get quality sleep
  • She dresses in layers or baggy clothing

If an adolescent girl in your life is suffering from an eating disorder, help is available. With professional support, she can regain control of the symptoms that have kept her from living a full, productive life.