Eating disorders impacted by pandemic

Kelli Evans keeps her passions, like gardening, at the forefront of her thoughts, not her disorder.
Posted at 5:00 AM, Mar 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-01 21:01:33-05

DENVER — Long before the pandemic, medical experts have grown increasingly concerned about mental health in America and a lot of those problems only got worse once the shutdowns began.

As we work to rebound from the effects of the pandemic, we’re taking a look at eating disorders as they continue to grip our nation.

Kelli Evans has struggled with an eating disorder most of her life, “17 is when my eating disorder started."

“I used my eating disorder a lot for gaining a sense of control in a very chaotic home,” Evans said.

She battled anorexia and suffered from bulimia for a time as well.

“In my 20s I actually entered two different treating centers for my eating disorder, and I ended up in a mental hospital a third time after a suicide attempt,” Evans said.

Evans got married, had kids, a great career but still, she struggled.

“When I couldn’t make my eating disorder go away. I had a tremendous amount of shame,” Evans said.

Kelli Evans lives in recovery
Kelli Evans shared her story of struggle.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, national surveys estimate, 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their life.

Patients with eating disorders have the second-highest death rate among all mental health disorders, second only to opioid addiction.

“They are critically important to recognize because there are crucial medical components that can compromise people’s ability to survive these. As well as really important psychological vulnerabilities,” Doctor Elizabeth Wassenaar said.

Dr. Wassenaar is the Regional Medical Director at the Eating Recovery Center (ERC) in Denver.

Dr. Elizabeth Wassenaar talks with News 5's Elizabeth Watts
Dr. Elizabeth Wassenaar talks with News 5's Elizabeth Watts via zoom.

They help those with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder (BED), and more.

“Eating disorders are a mental illness,” Dr. Wassenaar said, “They have a large hereditability component and there are incredible studies going on right now looking at the heretics of eating disorders and how they run in families.”

The pandemic has exacerbated these issues. Whether it’s the need for control in a crazy world, or if someone is also suffering from anxiety or depression.

People who suffer come in all age ranges and shapes and sizes.

“Oftentimes people affected don’t appear the stereotypical, restrictive-eating body type and they can get missed by professionals,” Dr. Wassenaar said.

They don’t do it for attention, the disorders thrive in secrecy and isolation, and willpower is not enough.

“There is so much power in naming it as a mental illness. And recognizing that this is not a disorder of willpower or something that somebody wants to have happen to them,” Dr. Wassenaar said, “These are real illnesses and real illnesses need support.

ERC has inpatient and outpatient therapy, telehealth options, group therapy, and more.

Insurance is accepted for treatment as well.

If you suspect someone you know has an eating disorder, express your concerns from a place of love. If you are suffering, reach out.

“It is crucial that we are able to name these things. We know, the earlier we intervene, the more likely we are to be successful,” Dr. Wassenaar said.

Evans found ERC when she was 42 years old.

“I had to come face to face with my shame. That told me I didn’t deserve to get help. And my pride that says I don’t need anybody. That I can do it on my own,” Evans said.

She’s now 54 and said the disordered thoughts are always in the back of her mind, but she chooses life and a sense of wonder.

Kelli Evans keeps her passions, like gardening, at the forefront of her thoughts, not her disorder.
Kelli Evans keeps her passions, like gardening, at the forefront of her thoughts, not her disorder.

She recently retired and spends time with her husband and grandbabies. She loves to garden, hike, and focus on her faith in God.

“I let those things speak louder to me than the eating disorder,” Evans said.

A lifetime of struggle and hard work. Ups and downs. She lives in recovery day to day and encourages anyone else who is suffering to ask for help, it is out there.

To learn more about signs and symptoms of eating disorders and the ERC click here.

There’s also a screening tool on the National Eating Disorders Association website.

If you have a story you'd like to see featured in our Rebound Colorado series email