When the COVID-19 pandemic pushed schools to around the country to cancel in-person classes, Emma Warford was 15 years old, an active athlete, a good student and functioning well.
However, as days turned to weeks and weeks to months, Warford said she began worrying about her weight while sitting at home in quarantine. The then-sophomore started counting calories, admitting she became obsessed with her food intake.
Even after school returned to in-class learning, Warford said she continued to latch onto her calorie-counting habit, calling it her “coping mechanism” for stress.
In 2021, Warford, who lives in both Highlands Ranch and Centennial, said she went to see her regular-care physician who took notice of her weight loss.
“My doctor noticed that I had completely fallen off my growth chart,” the now 17-year-old said. “They tried to get me some therapy and a nutritionist to work with.”
When asked how much weight she lost, a choked-up Warford said more than 40 pounds.
Warford was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by an abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of weight. According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, or CDC, an anorexic teen will skip meals, eat small portions, become obsessed with counting calories, or, in some cases, starve themselves.
During the pandemic, health organizations across the U.S. sounded the alarm in rising cases of youth and teens being admitted into emergency rooms with mental health issues, including eating disorders. In Colorado, mental health has reached crisis levels, causing care facilities to be full and parents and families struggling to find a place to seek treatment for their youth and teens.
Her mother said when she was told the eating disorder clinic in Colorado was full, she started calling other states, getting on waitlists, trying to use the internet to educate herself and trying to understand a system where her daughter was not getting the help she needed.
-Highlands Herald, Thelma Grimes