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7 Reasons you may not realize you have an eating disorder if you're over 40

Did you have an eating disorder when you were a teenager, and after years your symptoms have returned?

Did you have symptoms of one type of eating disorder when you were young, but different symptoms as you have gotten older? (I.e. you were anorexic as a teenager, but doing more emotional eating now?)

Are you worried about the effects of aging on your body, and feeling worse about your looks?

The Daily Beast reports: “... more and more adults in midlife and beyond have begun seeking treatment for an eating disorder. For some of these individuals, the eating disorder is a new problem that didn’t begin until their 40s or 50s. Others had an eating disorder as a teen or young adult and recovered, only to relapse in midlife. Still others have been chronically ill since adolescence.”

Here are some reasons why you may not realize you have an eating disorder in midlife:

  1. You are a male.  This is sad, but true.  Eating disorders are primarily viewed as a young, white, female condition.  It’s difficult enough to seek help for an eating problem when you fit the stereotype; imagine if you are a successful middle-aged man running a company, or a soldier, or a marathon runner… how likely would you be to admit you are making yourself throw up or feel so ashamed of one body part you can barely leave the house? 
    The Body Image Therapy Center explains: “Published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders October 2016 issue, “Eating Disorders Symptoms in Middle-Age and Older Men” evaluated 470 males between the ages of 40 and 75 for basic eating disorder symptoms such as having a BMI under 18.5, binge eating and purging, binge eating, and purging without binge eating. What they found is that nearly 7% of the men described eating disorder behavior at a diagnosable level. The most common form was compensatory behaviors in the form of exercise, though all forms of eating disorders were found.”

  2. You are a yo-yo dieter. We live in an eating disordered culture that is fixated on fat shaming and compulsive dieting.  The media, our peers, and even our doctors often reward us for the desire to diet and lose weight, even though there is ample scientific evidence that diets don’t work in the long term and actually create a lifetime of physical and emotional difficulties. 
  3. You are feeling bad about your aging body.  I feel that one of the most dangerous qualities of eating and body image disorders is that symptoms change like a chameleon as we age.  When we are younger, the emphasis is often on looking model thin, being super-fit, and avoiding “fattening” foods. As we age, advertisers start to shame us about the normal signs of aging such as developing wrinkles, going grey/bald, age related weight gain (often associated with perimenopause and menopause).  So in addition to the never ending pressure of needing to be thin, middle aged men and women now feel they have to fight a losing battle to look forever young.
  4. Your symptoms are not the same as when you were younger.  Another misconception about eating disorders, is that an individual only suffers from one diagnosis, such as anorexia nervosa, and the symptoms don’t change over the years.  Nothing could be further from the truth. What I have discovered over years of counseling people with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, emotional eating and body dysmorphic disorder, is that it is entirely more common for people to exhibit symptoms of several types of eating disorders over many years.  So if you only think of yourself as prone to anorexia nervosa because you had it as a teenager, you are very likely to miss the signs if you start to emotionally overeat as an adult.

  5. Your doctor tells you that you don’t have a problem.  I am not here to disparage doctors and nurses - I work with many fabulous medical providers in the course of my work; however, medical training is not geared towards non-diet, body-positive teachings.  As a result, many doctors, nurses, PAs, etc, end up giving their patients faulty advice about needing to diet, and shaming them in the process.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard my mid-life patients recount to me how their doctors told them they are too old to have an eating disorder, or that the answer to their emotional eating is a course of diet pills or irreversible bypass surgery (which actually makes the eating disorder worse!). Even more sad, these same medical professionals suffer from eating disorders, too
  6. All of your friends talk about how much they hate their bodies and need to lose weight.  I think its funny (not in a ha-ha way, but in an ironic way), that there are so many articles on the internet citing research proving there is an epidemic of midlife eating disorders, when all you have to do is walk into any typical gym, locker room, or family dinner to be bombarded with talk about the latest diet trends and feelings of horror about eating “bad foods” and the need to get back on track.  You don’t need a research degree to realize people at every age struggle with weight obsession and disliking their looks and bodies!  If everyone seems to be feeling this way, these comments become normalized and more difficult to see them as they really are - untreated and undiagnosed eating and body image disorders.

  7. You are obsessed with exercise and clean eating.  Along the same lines as the previous point, our culture has become saturated with unhealthy and extreme diets and exercise plans that are couched in promises of longevity, better health, and even helping the environment.  When I was a teenager, the diets were terrible (remember the grapefruit diet anyone?), but they didn’t have a MORAL component that implied you were helping the earth, ensuring a life without medical problems, or discovering the anti-aging fountain of youth!  These types of messages make it even more difficult to see these diet and exercise plans as extreme forms of eating and body image disorders that can actually hurt your health and emotional well-being!

    If you are an older man or woman and you feel exhausted by constant dieting, the need to “eat clean”, or the never ending battle to fight the normal signs of aging, please know YOU CAN BE FREE of these self-deprecating thoughts and exhausting behaviors.  But you need to see them as the problem, not the solution.  

    If you had an eating disorder when you were younger, and all of a sudden your symptoms have either returned, or you have developed different symptoms that are interfering with your life and relationships, YOU CAN BE FREE of them.  But you need to believe you deserve support and help and believe it will work even though you are no longer a teenager.

    If you hate your body in middle age, fear gaining weight and related health problems, or feel so self-conscious about a particular body part that you have trouble being social, being sexual, or feeling at peace, YOU CAN BE FREE of these fears.  But you have to have the courage to pick up the phone and reach out for help and support from someone who gets it and has the skills to help free you.

    I have been helping to release people for over twenty-five years from these burdens.  I offer a free 15 minute consultation to discuss a plan about how we can help you be finally free.  Be reassured that I call everyone back personally, and within 24 hours, because I know how much courage it takes just to send an email request or leave a voicemail message.  Don’t believe me? Just take that first step to write or call and we will be talking the very same day :-).

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