Local psychologist seeing surge in teens with eating disorders during pandemic

Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 5:31 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - A local psychologist said she’s seeing a surge in people, specifically teenagers, needing treatment for eating disorders during the pandemic.

People calling for help regarding eating disorders increased by 40%. That’s according to the National Eating Disorders Association helpline which recorded this increase nationwide during the peak of the pandemic lockdowns, from March of 2020 until March of this year.

17-year-old Annika Regenwether struggled with an eating disorder before the pandemic.

“I just stopped eating and I didn’t really know why,” Regenwether said.

That was a little more than two years ago. She was dealing with depression and bullying in school.

“It was hard. I don’t think I wanted to admit it at all,” Regenwether said.

During a running camp, Regenwether realized she had an eating disorder and needed help.

“I just wanted to sleep all day, and I think the thing I really realized too that was weird was that I was always cold,” Regenwether said.

Regenwether said she told her mom and they started searching for treatment options.

“When we went into the first appointment with her family doctor, she lost 10 pounds from August into February,” Kirsten Witherspoon said.

Witherspoon said she started doing research, and finally found a counselor. She started making the drive from Miles, Iowa, to Cedar Rapids for treatment.

“It was surprising and shocking because again you think you know your own daughter,” Witherspoon said.

Counselor Brandis McFarland says during the pandemic the need for services spiked fast.

“I had probably an average of eight to 10 referrals most weeks, particularly for adolescence, and what we know is that people who do develop any disorders have the genetic predisposition, and then paired with the environment we have the perfect storm,” McFarland said.

Locally, the University of Iowa is the only inpatient unit to treat eating disorders, seeing patients starting at age 16. However, most patients get help in an outpatient setting.

“Family-based treatment ultimately has been designed for a family to replicate a higher level of care in the home, so that we don’t have to send a teenager or young adult to a higher level of care meaning a hospital or a residential treatment facility,” McFarland said.

However, McFarland said education is the best prevention.

“We need to continue to educate a medical community and our educational system so that they can be aware and help to be preventative,” McFarland said.

For Regenwether, her message is to reach out.

“You’re not alone. There’s a lot of people out there. I know it’s hard to talk about, but get the help you need,” Regenwether said.

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