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Patients with eating disorders turn to app during Covid

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Recovery Record founder and CEO Jenna Tregarthen says that her free app is used by over 10,000 health professionals of eating disorders and that usage among practitioners has increased by 25 percent since the start of the pandemic and by 30 percent among individuals seeking help.

Heather was 14 when a diet disorder took over her life. Twelve years and a global pandemic later, mandated shelter-in-place orders essentially ended the on-site care she had come to rely on. As soon as Covid occurred I was no longer able to enter the clinic to meet with my clinicians,” says she of the team of doctors, therapists, psychiatrists and nutritionists who often work collaboratively in traditional therapy settings. The outsider treatment was four days a week. After completing, I went from having a lot of contact to just having one appointment once a week—that’s something I really struggled with. There was only one practical option: Head to the App Store.

When an app is used it means that people ask to track their thoughts and actions. “I use the app daily to connect with my treatment team and record my meals, snacks, thoughts, concerns, and problems,” Heather says. “We used this so that they could monitor how I was doing and then summarize the previous week over a weekly Zoom meeting…”

Heather says that whenever she experienced something especially stressful she would take note of it in the app Thoughts section. “Sometimes I would add photographs as a reference to what I was talking about and I would leave questions and notes that [my team] would reply to in a 24-hour period typically,” she says. The app also sent regular reminders for Heather to eat and track her meals. “Sometimes, as a routine, I would end the day by spending time on the app and just recapping any part of the day I left out,” she says.

Recovery Record co-founder and CEO Jenna Tregarthen says that her free app is used by over 10,000 eating disorder providers and that usage among practitioners has increased by 25 percent since the beginning of the pandemic and by 30 percent among individuals seeking help. The time is when so much is out of our control and people experience increased stress levels,” she says. Wes and Elie have gone, there is uncertainty about the future, the distance felt between loved ones is great, and our days (and meal times) lack the structure they once had. This system of emotional turmoil is causing widespread experiences of stress, depression and anxiety. For many, eating is a form of control, a coping mechanism to handle this stress.

Eating disorders are difficult to treat and there is no single treatment that is effective for everyone. The most well-known disorders – anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating – are thought to be influenced by biological, psychological and social factors. Over the estimated population who struggle with clinical disorders in the United States, “we’ve found that less than 20 percent of individuals are in treatment with eating disorders,” says Ellen Fitzsimmons-Craft, an assistant professor at the Department of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine of the Washington University. Although a small minority has access to care, it’s unlikely that most individuals have access to specialists trained in eating disorders. Covid has absolutely emphasized the need for these kinds of options — now there is virtually no access to face-to-face care.”

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