Parent to Parent: Eating disorders impacting more young people

Eating disorders among adolescents are rising during the pandemic, and locally, there are waiting lists at many hospitals and clinics for those who need medical attention.

There are ways that parents can try and catch the disorder early on before needing advanced treatment at a clinic or hospital according to health experts.

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Shalini Wickramatilake was a great student with big goals and dreams and a big secret.

"I didn’t get treatment until I was 29. It took almost two decades for me to get the care that I needed," she said.

At just 11 years old, Shalini says she started dieting. She says hitting puberty was a time this elementary student felt she couldn’t control anything but maybe what she ate and her body weight.

"All through those years of late elementary school, middle school, high school, college, grad school, those very formative years of my life, it was taken up by my eating disorder. It is really sad to think about now."

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Shalini finally sought help and realized, after being assessed, she need advanced care and received it at The Renfrew Center in Philadelphia. It’s a place many go to get advanced residential treatment for eating disorders.

"I think there definitely is a rise with adolescents and teens with eating disorders. The pandemic has created the perfect storm for the development of an eating disorder. I think the isolation, the increased social media use, loss of structure, social activities, all of those things can trigger on an eating disorder," said Dr. Samantha DeCaro, a clinical psychologist and director of clinical outreach and education at Renfrew.

"Through the years, things are getting worse. We see earlier onset, we see more medically acute cases, so unfortunately we see folks who are really struggling with medical issues."

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On their website, anyone can take a food, body, and emotional quiz.

"It is really meant to be a starting point, to start thinking about these things, because they are so normalized in our culture," DeCaro said. "We want to help people understand that these behaviors are actually disordered. That feeling guilt and anxiety around food is an issue, and you deserve support for it."

Shalini got the support and is thriving now, but she says parents are key.

"Support your child and ask questions, and have conversations with them in a non-judgmental way," said Shalini.

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To learn more about The Renfrew Center and/or take the quizzes, click here.