DENVER (KDVR) — More teen girls are ending up in hospitals due to eating disorders, according to mental health professionals, and it has only worsened due to the pandemic.  

Eating disorders are the second most deadly mental illness behind opioid addiction. The demand is so high here in Colorado that the eating resource center is expanding its facility to take in more youth patients.  

ERC’s Regional Medical Director, Dr. Elizabeth Wassenaar, said often those struggling with eating disorders have overly assigned their worth based on their size and shape. 

Those seeking care are usually teens, but people as young as 8 years old are also treated. The CDC said visits to the ER for eating disorders have doubled among teen girls.

An ER visit for an eating disorder means the illness has reached a critical level.  

“We are just seeing a flood of adolescents with really severe eating disorders,” said Wassenaar. “We’re seeing them now really need higher levels of care. They can’t do this just in an outpatient setting. So that is one of the things that we’re working on, knowing that there’s a huge need, and we think there’s going to be more. We’re actually opening more child and adolescent beds here in Denver so that we can better meet the needs of the child and adolescent population seeking treatment for their eating disorder.”

Denver’s Eating Recovery Center plans to have room for 59 more patients to meet the need come October. 

“[Those with an eating disorder] think that they need to lose weight to be better, and if they just lose more weight, or they just exercise more or they eat healthier, then they’ll feel better and they’ll feel worthy. So, the crux of the illness is that they can never be good enough for the eating disorder. Meanwhile, they are compromising their body and their health,” said Wassenaar.   

Wassenaar shared a few warning signs to look out for, she said like many mental illnesses some signs are: 

  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Eating alone, avoiding family dinners
  • Going to the gym excessively
  • Stopping participation in activities they usually like to do

Though anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa remain prominent, Wassenaar said binge eating has made a resurgence during the pandemic.  

“So, unexpected weight changes is one of the first signs for biological females if they have started menstruating and they stopped menstruating. that is a very big warning sign. A later sign would be if they stopped growing. So, if they stop gaining height, then they are very ill and need to be in treatment. That means that they’ve been in a calorie deficit for quite some time,” Wassenaar said. 

She attributed a lack of socializing and more time spent on social media to a possible rise in eating disorders post-pandemic. 

She added that even if you’re not sure if you or your child may have an eating disorder you can call for a free assessment to see if treatment is needed and to get questions answered because they say early detection is key.     

For a free assessment, you can call 1-866-953-0689.

Learn more about eating disorders’ signs and symptoms from The Eating Disorder Foundation.