KITCHENER -- Mental health professionals say the pandemic has worsened the effects of eating disorders.

Officials with the Canadian Mental Health Association of Waterloo-Wellington said they're seeing more visits from patients and relapses caused by stress and anxiety.

Sarah Braun has spent 18 years battling an eating disorder.

"I wouldn't wish it upon anyone," she said. "It led me down some really dark paths."

Braun said she has been in and out of treatment centres trying to manage anorexia and bulimia. She left rehab two years ago feeling better.

"I was dead set on 'I got this and nothing is going to bring me down,'" Braun said. "Then the pandemic hit."
Braun lives alone in Guelph and she said lockdown made her feel even more isolated.

"The only thing you're with is your mind, the whole time, and it was scary," she said.

Braun said the experience triggered binging and purging to cope.

"When my only form of interaction with anyone was over the computer, no one could actually see what's going on with my body," she said.

Braun isn't alone. The CMHAWW said it's seen a 20 per cent increase in visits to its eating disorder programming this year.

"We're seeing like over 400 more visits this year than in previous years," clinician Stacey Reinsma said. "I think that relates to severity of the eating disorders."

Reinsma said restrictions during the pandemic have caused stress and uncertainty.

"Symptoms are used to gain a sense of control or reducing emotional discomfort," she said. "We all know that with COVID, there's been such an intense lack of control."

Reinsma said four in 10 patients have relapsed and that there's a backlog for intensive care services for eating disorders.

"The waitlist for those is seven to eight months in some cases," Reinsma said. "Some were closed for a good chunk of the pandemic, so they're even longer."

Reinsma suggests building a routine.

"Sticking to something we call mechanical eating, which is our three meals and three snacks and planning your meals and planning to have them," she said.

Braun said that activity will help on her journey to recovery during lockdown.