Why Mid-Life Eating Disorders Are On The Rise

Mindy, food and Metabolism

Mindy says that midlife eating disorders affect older women, too.

By Mindy Gorman-Plutzer

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 an increase 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 more people affected than we are aware of. So what are some common signs that can tell you if you or someone you love is facing such a struggle?

One sign to look for is perhaps you or your loved one has a long history with dieting and it has become obsessive. Or maybe you or a loved one has become obsessive about exercise. A dramatic change in weight is another sign of a disordered relationship with food; social isolation also is very common.

What are Some common triggers of midlife eating disorders?

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 some to watch out for:

♦️ Divorce or loss of a loved one is one of the most common triggers of eating disorders in midlife woman. The stress and anxiety these life-changing events bring to bear call 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.

♦️ The stress of caring for ill or aging loved ones is another trigger for an eating disorder. The isolation and energy expenditure of being a care-giver can take its toll. Making empowered food choices and engaging in healthy lifestyle habits often get put on the back burner.

♦️ Both the hormonal change of menopause and the stress and anxiety brought about by transition into a new life stage may negatively affect women in midlife. 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.

♦️ 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 eating disorders. 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.

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 health problems) or a change in diet (perhaps eating at restaurants more frequently or consuming more pre-prepared meals).

♦️ Changes in family structure. Many parents feel lonely when their 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 is by choice or happenstance, it can be hard to manage the stress with resilience. And for many midlife women, this results in triggering an underlying predisposition to an eating disorder.

The Midlife Eating Disorder Takeaway

Midlife can be challenging, some of which may seem overwhelming. 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. There are solutions. Re-framing your relationship to your story allows for a renewed relationship to yourself.

In addition to being a board-certified health coach and nutritional consultant, Mindy Gorman-Plutzer is a Certified Eating Psychology Coach in Manhattan. She is the author of The Freedom Promise: 7 Steps To Stop Fearing What Food Will Do TO You and Start Embracing What It Can Do FOR You(Balboa Press). For more information, go to www.thefreedompromise.com. Follow her on twitter at @FreedomPromise.

Leave a Reply