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More health care workers are suffering from eating disorders amid pandemic

Posted at 12:02 PM, Nov 11, 2020

Working in the health care industry can impact the mind and body.

“I’ve been a nurse for seven years and this pandemic has been the most stressful time of my nursing career,” registered nurse Hugo Mercardo said.

Mercardo says working 12-hour shifts on the front lines during the COVID-19 crisis has left him tired and hungry.

“I just pretty much stuff my food and take a quick lunch and go back on the floor,” he said.

Mercardo says the hospital he works at in Southern California is understaffed and many of his coworkers are overworked.

To help cope with the stresses, many health care workers are eating too much or not enough.

“I think it’s mostly due to stress because we use eating as a way to get that immediate comfort after a shift,” Mercardo said.

Erratic eating patterns are becoming more common among health care workers nationwide.

“I think in this time of COVID, people are starting to crack because of it,” said Philip Mehler, M.D., founder and executive medical director at ACUTE, the country’s only intensive care unit for people who have the most extreme forms of eating disorders.

“The stress of the of the illness is causing more anxiety more depression,” Mehler said.

During the pandemic, the number of health care providers seeking treatment for eating disorders at ACUTE has quadrupled compared to last year. In the last eight weeks, that number has grown even more.

“Health care workers tend to minimize their own illnesses, they tend to wait until they’ve got more severe to go in for care,” Mehler said, adding that many eating disorders are curable.

As the number of COVID cases continue to climb, however, he predicts so will the number of health care workers experiencing eating disorders.

“The longer this goes on, the more there’s a need for resiliency,” Mehler said. “It beats you down after a while.”

Moving forward on the front lines, Mercardo and his coworkers will be taking a closer look at their caloric intake as this crisis continues.

“Our bodies need to be at a maximum level to handle the stress that we have going on at work,” he said.