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By Sabrina Franza

EVANSTON, Ill. (CBS) — The COVID-19 pandemic is fueling another medical condition – eating disorders are at an all-time high.

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CBS 2’s Sabrina Franza sat down with a freshman at Northwestern University on Friday who told her about his journey to recovery — hoping to inspire others affected during their months of self-isolation.

“I feel like the thought is just like, ‘Oh, that could never be me,'” Lucy Sayah said, “and like, I’ve been thinking that for so long too.”

Sayah is studying economics at Northwestern.

“Northwestern has been my dream for so long that I knew I couldn’t miss it – like I was willing to do literally anything to get there,” she said.

Two years ago, at the start of the pandemic, Sayah was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. She spent most of her senior year of high school in treatment – until one day she fought to overcome the disease.

“I actually left treatment a week before I came to Northwestern,” Sayah said.

The National Eating Disorder Association reports a dramatic increase in its call volume for all types of eating disorders. There were 25,855 at the start of 2020 and 53,423 at the end of 2021, an increase of 107% over the past two years.

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“In-person treatment may not have been available,” said Lauren Smolar, mission vice president for the National Eating Disorders Association. “Their support systems may not have been as accessible.”

While many things seem to be returning to some degree of pre-pandemic normalcy, Sayah said she’s not convinced that certain habits picked up during the pandemic will go away so easily.

“If people start to like avoiding events with food, or missing birthday parties or things like that, or telling their friends, you know, ‘Oh, I’m not hungry,’ or if you notice they suddenly start being interested in the work when they didn’t really have an interest like that before – it’s usually, it can be a very subtle change,” Sayah said. things people wouldn’t think twice about.”

These are all warning signs to watch out for.

Eating disorders have the second highest death rate of any mental illness, after opioid abuse,” Smolar said.

While Sayah is now living her dreams at Northwestern, she also has a warning.

“It took so much from me, and I’d hate it to take more from anyone else,” she said.

Sayah hopes her story will inspire others to take care of themselves and each other.

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If you or someone you know need help, or aren’t sure where to start for advice, call or text the National Eating Disorders Helpline at (800) 931-2237.