The image that pops up in most peoples minds when they thing of someone with an eating disorder is a young, female in their teenage years. Whilst the majority of people that are known to have an eating disorder are indeed young and female this does not mean that people over the age of 25 can not be effected. In fact, due to the stereotype of eating disorders being a young persons disorder many people who may be affected, but don’t fit into their own pre-conceived idea of an eating disorder, may not recognise symptoms in themselves or loved ones. It is also easier to hide an eating disorder as an adult due to the increase in independence. This makes it more difficult for accurate statistics and information on eating difficulties in adults. More importantly, this is preventing people from getting the early interventions that they may need to tackle their eating difficulties.
A Rise in Diagnoses
It has recently been shown that the rate of hospital diagnoses is on the rise, but importantly in relation to this topic there was a 70% increase for men in the 41-60 age group and a 67% increase in men aged 26-40, both higher than the increase in the 19-25 age group at 63%. There was similar pattern in women with there being a 76% increase in hospital diagnoses in middle-aged woman in comparison to a 61% increase in women aged 19-25. Whilst across the board there is a rise this also demonstrates a distinct need to address and break down the stereotype that eating disorders affect populations older than adolescent age.
There are three categories that people who develop an eating disorder later in life can be put into:
- Someone who has secretly struggles with an eating disorder for years without seeking treatment (many of whom have received treatment for substance abuse)
- Someone that was treated when they were younger for an eating disorder that has now reoccurred
- Someone who first develops an eating disorder as an adult.
There are many reasons why people can develop an eating disorder in adulthood. Much are the same as eating disorders that develop during adolescence and childhood. However, these are some additional reasons why an eating disorder may become apparent in later years:
- Divorce/Separation/ Relationship Troubles: Divorce or separation, regardless of the whys behind it, is a difficult transition time. Divorce and or separation can be a highly stressful time for all involved. There may be a degree of feeling like their lives are out of control and therefore people may turn to food as a way to find an element of control. Both men and woman may struggle with fears of spending the remainder of their lives alone. When returning to the world of dating this may cause extreme anxiety and insecurity. In order to achieve a more desirable body people may turn to extreme measures to lose weight which can easily get out of control.
- Ageing body: During our lifetime there are many changes that our body goes through and ageing can feel like we’re out of sync with our body. These changes in our own body can lead people to turn to food and exercise to try and regain control over their bodies. For women in particular the menopause that can have both psychological and physiological changes can be a massive trigger for feeling out of control of their bodies.
- Empty Nest: Children leaving home can prove highly traumatic for parents. This is especially true when a parent is defined by their children and their primary identity is that of being a parent. With an empty space in the house and the loss of routine the focusing may shift to appearance, diets, health, and exercise that can fill that empty space.
- Grief: The illness or death of a parent, relative or friend can have a profound impact at any age. Some may feel unable to meet the demands of their usual lives in the midst of their loss. For those people who have previously struggled with eating difficulties in the past, the behaviours may re-emerge as a means to cope with their loss. Those who have not had a history or eating difficulties are definitely not immune, depression and grief can effect our ability to eat and this can easily become a coping mechanism.
- Unexpected Illness: Illnesses can occur at any point in our lives and can change our bodies in various ways even after we’ve recovered. Cancer in particular can change the perception of the body especially when treatment can fluctuate weight.
- Career difficulties: High stress jobs, redundancy, losing a job or not being able to get the right job can also lead to finding mechanisms to control the stress this can cause.
- Financial strain: Can cause an increase in stress, a lack of money to buy food when there are bills to pay which can lead to self neglect.
- Addiction: Our next blog post will go into more detail about this.
Warning signs of eating disorders
Recently a yougov survey commissioned by the eating disorder charity beat found that a third of those surveyed were unable to correctly identify symptoms of an eating disorder with 79% being unable to identify any psychological symptoms. Therefore we thought it would be important that, at this stage of our blog posts for eating disorders awareness week, we covered some generalised warning signs for eating difficulties. We will be elaborating on the different presentations of eating disorders on the website in the near future.
- Avoiding eating with others. A person with an eating disorder will feel uncomfortable eating with others and so will make excuses not to eat in company.
- Becoming obsessive about food
- Worrying changes in behaviour
- Having distorted beliefs about their body size
- Often tired or struggling to concentrate
- Irritability and/or anxiousness around meal times
- Rigid categorisation of foods as ‘good’ or bad’
- Preoccupation with food, weight, body shape
- Negative body image
- Feeling cold, even in warmer weather (due to malnourishment)
- Change in clothing style (wearing baggy clothing)
- Hidden stashes of food (associated with binging behaviours)
- Missing food or money – used to pay for binge foods (associated with binging behaviours)
- Hidden food wrappers/containers in home/car(associated with binging behaviours)
- Visiting the bathroom after eating (associated with purging behaviours)
- Damaged teeth and gums, swollen salivary glands in cheeks, sores in mouth and throat, raspy voice from repeated vomiting(associated with binging and purging behaviours)
- Obsessive exercising
- Cutting out foods by claiming it is due to a health kick, food intolerance or vegetarianism/veganism.
If you can identify some of these behaviours in either yourself or a loved one please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.