BY: Rachel Guerra
DATE: April 14, 2016
It can be easy to forget how indiscriminate eating disorders are. Popular culture has ingrained a certain image of the eating disorder patient—a thin Caucasian adolescent female. This stereotype is far from representative of the diverse population of people with eating disorders. In fact, people of all genders, ethnic backgrounds, body types, and socioeconomic statuses develop and suffer from eating disorders. It has been said that eating disorders are “equal-opportunity offenders.1”
Additionally, even though eating disorders are often thought to only occur during adolescence and young adulthood, eating disorders actually occur across the lifespan. It does not matter whether someone is 8 or 80 years old; a diagnosis of an eating disorder is determined by the behaviors endorsed and the symptoms exhibited by the individual. For some individuals who experience eating disorders in mid-life or older age, this is the re-emergence of an illness they had when they were younger, while others are experiencing these symptoms for the first time. Still others are somewhere in-between, having struggled for years on-and-off or consistently. The experiences of eating disorders are as diverse as the individuals themselves.
There are many reasons an eating disorder may develop, re-appear, or escalate later in life.1 Although not everyone goes through what has been coined a “mid-life crisis,” this stage of life often comes with many big transitions such as retirement, an “empty nest,” or the loss of a partner. For some people, it may also be challenging to accept an aging body. All of these factors may lead to an increased risk for an eating disorder at midlife.2
Many health care professionals, along with family members and friends, may not suspect that the symptoms they are seeing are that of an eating disorder, which can lead to a failure to detect the illness. Weight loss and other symptoms associated with geriatric eating disorders are often misattributed to other physical health conditions.3 Even after a correct diagnosis has been given, there are other hurdles to cross. We have much more to learn about the potentially unique needs and challenges of older patients with eating disorders. More research needs to be done in order to gain a better understanding of how to appropriately and effectively adapt treatment strategies that take into consideration an older patient’s stage in life.4
Regardless of age, eating disorders wreak havoc on one’s mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. In order to be a good ally, we must be conscious of the fact that eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. If you are interested in learning more, CEED’s very own Founding Director, Dr. Cynthia Bulik, authored Midlife Eating Disorders: Your Journey to Recovery. http://www.cynthiabulik.com/books/midlife-eating-disorders/
CEED is also currently seeking volunteers for a research study examining eating behaviors during midlife. You may be eligible if: you are a women between the ages of 42-52,recently started the menopause transition, and binge eat or overeat. Study participation requires two in person appointments and in home self-assessments. Eligible participants may be compensated up to $225 at study completion.