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Pandemic illuminates need for eating disorder resources

Panic buying by the masses cleared a few safety foods from stores
Published: Jun. 30, 2020 at 11:11 PM EDT
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(WDBJ) - As Virginia prepares to move into Phase III of reopening, many aspects of life have changed for the foreseeable future. For those that suffer from an eating disorder, the pandemic not only created new obstacles, but also amplified the need for more resources in Southwest Virginia.

Angel Spangler has been recovering from an eating disorder for a little more than a year. The Floyd resident became anorexic in college, then periodically rewarded herself for stints of starving with a binge. That lasted for 16 years.

“I didn’t have to eat. I could drink my coffee, I could drink that soda, and I could just keep on going,” Spangler said.

“Her breaking point came last year, at her grandmother’s funeral.

“I was on the brink of death. I could have lived two more hours, or two more days,” she said.

When Spangler’s parents took her to the hospital, she needed blood transfusions, her vital organs were shutting down, and her heart was collapsing.

“Having to face my parents, and having them cry,” she recalled. “My family had to push me away. I wouldn’t let them in, and they couldn’t just watch me waste away. If I was going to choose to die, then I had to choose to die by myself.”

She chose in-patient treatment at Veritas Collaborative, a facility in Durham, North Carolina. Today her food intake and her outlook on life are much different.

However, the pandemic posed new challenges. One was a shortage of safety foods. Those are two to three items that someone recovering from anorexia feels comfortable eating. Panic buying cleared some of those foods off store shelves.

“You can’t just go to the store and pick up something, you have to plan ahead,” Spangler said. “By the time you get to making that meal, it’s not what I want, so hey, I don’t even have to eat.”

The pandemic also brought a renewed emphasis on cooking at-home, jokes about gaining “the quarantine 15,” and isolation.

“Picture a bully living in your head,” Tina Renick, a registered dietician-nutritionist with Nutrition Counseling Roanoke, said.

Renick is Spangler’s nutritionist. She says treatment for all her clients has been complicated due to social distancing.

“I like to get a blind weight, so not physically being able to lay eyes on them has been difficult,” Renick said.

Counseling is impacted as well. Laura Guise, a licensed clinical social worker with Thriveworks in Lynchburg, says as sessions moved online, video conferencing created it’s own set of problems.

“Somebody who has body dysmorphia and sees themselves in a way that is less than favorable is now doing a clinical session where they now have a video camera showing them back what they look like, which can often cause an incredible amount of increased anxiety,” Guise said.

However, both Guise and Renick say the pandemic helped their clients by connecting them to nationwide resources. Those include meal delivery, podcasts and virtual support groups. That is crucial, they say, because of a lack of resources in Southwest Virginia.

“Specialists, in terms of physicians and in terms of dietitians, are slim,” Guise said.

Renick says in the Roanoke Valley and the New River Valley there are no in-person support groups, fewer than a dozen dietitians and therapists, and no formal in-patient or intensive out-patient care programs within three hours.

“Since I’ve been working in the area, it’s been a very underserved area,” she said.

Spangler hopes going forward, one thing the pandemic will bring is an understanding of the need for those services.

“I’m praying that this pandemic shows people, therapists out there, that they need to move toward the rural areas,” she said. “It’s not just the cities that have these problems.”

With Phase III of reopening, local specialists will be providing a combination of telehealth and in-person treatment depending on patient and provider preference.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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