Most people believe that eating disorders only affect adolescents and young women, however that is not actually the case. The truth is, midlife eating disorders are on the rise. In fact, treatment centers around the country are reporting a rise in the number of women and men over 35 who are presenting for treatment for eating disorders.
Considering the fact that only a fraction of people with eating disorders seek treatment, it’s likely that there are even more people suffering than we are aware of. So what are some common signs of a a midlife eating disorders? What are some signs that can tell you if you or someone you love is facing such a struggle? What are some common triggers of midlife eating disorders?
What Are The Signs?
Perhaps you or your loved one has a long history with dieting and it has become obsessive, as is a compulsion to exercise. A dramatic change in weight is another sign of a disordered relationship with food and social isolation is very common.
What Are Some Triggers?
While just about any major stressor could trigger an underlying eating disorder, there are a few main ones that seem to be pretty common. Here are a few triggers to watch out for:
1. Divorce or Loss of a Loved One
Divorce or loss of a loved one is one of the most common triggers of eating disorders among midlife woman. The stress and anxiety these life changing events bring to bear calls for coping and self-soothing. For many, this shows up in a relationship with food that develops in an effort to numb oneself and quickly becomes self destructive.
2. Increased Stress From Caring for Aging Loved Ones
The stress of caring for ill or aging loved ones can result in a a situation as I described above. The isolation and energy expenditure of being a care-giver can take it’s toll. Making empowered food choices and engaging in healthy lifestyle habits often get put on the back burner.
Both hormonal change and the stress and anxiety brought about by transition into a new life stage may affect women in midlife negatively. Some women have struggled with eating disorders their entire life, or struggled with an eating disorder in their early life that seemed to resolve, only to recur as they go through menopause. For others, though, an eating disorder develops for the first time in midlife in response to the changes that are functions of the hormonal flux and structural changes that instigate change in emotional health.
4. Empty Nest
If you have raised children, you know they become and remain a huge part of your life. And many of us are not prepared for the changes that occur after our last child walks out the door. There are both procedural and emotional factors associated with an empty nest that can be triggers for disordered eating.
Children leaving home, along with issues reorienting to being a couple, can lead to feelings of low mood or depression, which themselves can influence eating behavior. It’s very common among midlife woman and men, as it is a major change that impacts their whole life.
5. Other Common Triggers
Here are a few more common midlife eating disorder triggers:
- Heightened body dissatisfaction resulting from the aging process when the body’s metabolism slows, wrinkles appear and hair grays. This can leave some feeling self-conscious and less desirable.
- Lifestyle changes which can lead to weight gain and body dissatisfaction. These may include less regular exercise (sometimes due to physical health problems) or a change in diet (e.g. eating at restaurants more frequently or consuming more pre-prepared meals).
- Changes in family structure. Many parents feel lonely when our children leave home, or as their own parents age.
- Stress associated with finances and retirement.
- A loss of identity as people exit the workforce and enter retirement; resulting in feelings of low self esteem, boredom and worthlessness.
- When change occurs in your life, whether it be by choice or life happenstance, it can be hard to manage the stress with resilience. And in many midlife woman, this results in triggering an underlying predisposition to an eating disorder.
The Midlife Eating Disorder Takeaway
In short, midlife eating disorders are not uncommon and can be triggered by any number of stressors. However, it is important to remember that if you are feeling challenged by an uncomfortable relationship with food AND your body, you need not face this struggle alone. Seek professional help from an experienced practitioner that understands your needs, both physical and emotional.
Interested in learning how to best explore in an effort to experience the vibrant life you desire? If so, I encourage you to check out my website. I offer a variety of programs all dedicated to helping you live a healthier life, from the inside out. My approach is positive and compassionate, my practice is based on the principles of Functional Medicine. Together we’ll take the deep dive into learning WHO you are as an eater, addressing the underlying cause of your symptoms. You’ll learn how to master the skills needed to Live the Change…Be the Change…See the Change.