Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses, caused by a combination of environmental, biological, and psychological factors. While our environment is only a part of the equation, it is important to look at the ways it does contribute, and what we can do to change it.
There are many stereotypes that feed into society’s perception of the type of people afflicted by eating disorders. If we could, those of us at The Emily Program would scream it from the rooftops: Eating disorders do not discriminate! A person’s sex, race, age, socioeconomic status, and culture don’t matter when it comes to disordered thinking about food! In this post, we focus on age and the similarities and differences of eating disorders in older adults compared to young and middle-aged adults. We will also cover the importance of seeking help, no matter a person’s life stage.
Setting the record straight on eating disorders and age
Many people think eating disorders only affect young or middle-aged adults and that beyond those years, the disorders disappear. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Eating disorders do primarily affect younger populations, and they often manifest in younger adults. According to the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R), it is true that eating disorders appear in early adulthood: the median age of onset for bulimia and anorexia is 18, while the median age of onset for Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is 21. However, if one of those eating disorders—or any disordered eating—goes untreated early on, that simply means that those with the eating disorder will likely continue to suffer into late adulthood. In other words, if an older adult is suffering from an eating disorder, that person has been plagued with the symptoms for decades. Adding to that heartbreak, because these adults have suffered for so long, it’s less likely that they will seek help during their golden years.
For those struggling with bulimia, the desire to binge and purge can be overwhelming. If you are struck with the urge to binge and purge, stay strong and look for ways to cope that don’t involve eating disorder behaviors.
Clinical evidence shows the longer you can separate the action of purging from the impulse to do so, the more likely it is that the urge will lessen. By taking a break and engaging in a mindful activity for 5-10 minutes, you can work to ease the intensity of your feelings. You could do laundry, go for a relaxing walk, work in the garden, take a long shower, or any other activity that provides a distraction.
We had a fantastic time at The Emily Program’s first live podcast event, Make Peace With You! Our discussion covered topics of perfectionism, social media, and eating disorder recovery.
Make Peace with You is a special live episode of Peace Meal focused on stories of embracing individuality and practicing self-acceptance. On November 2nd, host Dr. Jillian Lampert talked with Olympian Jessie Diggins and journalist Jana Shortal about how they learned to come to terms with body image issues and other challenges.