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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — The pandemic has been hard on most people but for those who are recovering from or are currently struggling with an eating disorder, specialists say it has been especially hard.

Certified eating disorder specialists, therapists and dieticians say they’re having a hard time keeping up with the demand and are getting referrals from across the state.

“We have a lot of collective anxiety going on right now and we’re having to tolerate one of the most difficult human emotions, that ambiguity and uncertainty,” said Signe Darpinian, a certified eating disorder specialist.

Eight months into the pandemic, Darpinian said more people are reaching out for help with eating disorders than ever before.

“I think for some individuals, it’s like there was that ember smoldering and it’s been ignited with the stressors of COVID,” Darpinian explained.

The National Eating Disorder Association reported calls to its helpline are up 70% to 80% in recent months.

“The medical doctors, the dieticians, the therapists, we’re all getting referrals in a much bigger way than we can handle,” Darpinian said.

She typically serves the Central Valley and the Bay Area but said there aren’t enough specialists like her to keep up with the demand.

Experts are having to get creative to help as many people they can via telehealth.

“Some of my colleagues in the Bay Area came up with the idea of doing a multi-family group so that we can create support for more families at one time,” she explained.

But Darpinian said even those group sessions are filling up fast.

She said the pandemic isn’t only affecting those with clinical eating disorders. The collective anxiety can lead to emotional eating for the general public, too — which isn’t always a bad thing but can be.

“Emotionally eating is a really normal part of a peaceful relationship to food,” Darpinian added. “It’s just that when it becomes a lot more chronic, it’s a problem because it lends itself to suppression of emotion.”

Darpinian said with a lack of structure of designated mealtimes and the fridge readily available, it makes sense why they’re seeing more eating difficulties in the general public too.

Instead of reaching for food in times of stress or boredom, she suggested take a pause and “focus on increasing your awareness and becoming a little bit more awake and aware about what you’re up to with food.”

A helpline for those with eating disorders is available Monday to Friday at 800-931-2237.

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