UNC student describes how stress- anxiety from pandemic affects those with eating disorders

Coronavirus

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – The coronavirus pandemic, and the stress and anxiety that come with it, are taking a toll on mental health. When it comes to eating disorders, some patients are struggling with more severe symptoms or even relapsing after recovery.

Katie Regittko has struggled with eating disorders for half of her life. She’s gone through treatment and difficult times. But, over the past year, she’s focused on getting better and even inspired others with her recovery.

Well enough to travel the world, the UNC student took a spring break trip to Iceland. By the time she got back, the pandemic had changed everything. Regittko was quarantined for two weeks. Then, social distancing rules and the stay-at-home order went into effect.

“Recovery, for me, kind of relies on setting up a routine,” Regittko said. That routine disappeared, along with access some of her regular appointments with her treatment team.

“If they can’t access the type of care that they need right now for their eating disorder, there’s a risk that this will get worse,” said Christine Peat. She runs the Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders at UNC.

Peat said she’s seen patients relapse or develop more severe symptoms as they become isolated, lose touch with support systems, and deal with pandemic-related anxiety and depression.

Then there’s the focus on food.

“People are stockpiling food, or maybe foods that you eat aren’t available in the grocery stores,” Peat said.

“The first time I got groceries, I started eating a lot of food and like bingeing and then purging,” Regittko said. “(I) went to the completely other side of the spectrum and I was not eating and I was abusing laxatives pills. (I) ended up having to be hospitalized for taking too many laxatives.”

Regittko is out of the hospital now and keeping in close touch with doctors and therapists virtually.

UNC has transitioned to telehealth and specialists say seeing even more patients than usual.

“The eating disorders program here has seen a 30% increase in referrals to our program — and that has just been since we’ve been in a stay-at-home order,” Peat said.

Although the pandemic isn’t over, specialists and people who struggle with eating disorders are finding new ways to work together. Regittko said she’s trying to follow a routine and having people check in on her to make sure she’s OK.

“Trying to take it a little bit day by day,” she said.

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