Stereotypically speaking, eating disorders have, for years, been viewed as a teenage girl problem. This simplistic view is not only bothersome; it’s completely incorrect. Eating disorders do not discriminate, and populations from young boys to older women can, and do, fall victim to this mental illness.
Understanding the signs of an eating disorder
If eating disorders affect a variety of individuals, it’s important to understand some of the signs of eating disorders, but specifically how these individual populations are affected. Obviously, a man’s experience will be different from an older woman’s even if they both battle the same eating disorder.
Let’s take a look at how eating disorders affect senior women, in addition to the signs that may present themselves in this case.
How eating disorders can affect senior women
Our modern culture is obsessed with two things in particular — youth and physical perfection.
Senior women continuously and unfairly battle these societal pressures. Sadly, 13% of women aged 50 and over struggle with eating disorders as a result of these demands and other personal causes.
Menopause can also significantly impact the appearance or resurgence of an eating disorder. The physical and mental changes occurring during this time can aggravate pre-existing self-doubt and dissatisfaction, further increasing the likelihood of an eating disorder.
Additionally, many older women show signs of multiple eating disorders instead of just one. This hybrid has, in recent years, been termed OSFED, Otherwise Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder, and can be just as physically damaging as any other disorder.
Identifying signs of an eating disorder
Diagnosing an eating disorder is something that should only be done by a trained mental health professional. However, there are signs you can look for to help you determine if your loved one is possibly suffering from an eating disorder.
Some signs are more overarching and do not point to one eating disorder in particular. These general signs can include:
- Withdrawing from social situations, including events like family dinners, if the situation involves food or eating;
- Having specified eating rituals, such as when one eats, or eating/restricting certain food groups;
- An obsessive preoccupation with numbers, like one’s clothing size or the amount of calories in a dish;
- A close focus on one’s body weight and physical appearance.
In addition to general signs, older women may also exhibit signs linked to specific eating disorders.
- Restricting or eliminating food intake to such a degree that body weight drops much lower than the healthy requirement for one’s age;
- Fearing weight gain to such an extent that it interferes with daily habits like eating and exercising;
- Having a distorted body image, like believing they are overweight when they are, in fact, underweight, and acting on the belief instead of living in reality.
- Recurrent episodes of binge-eating as defined as eating more than is necessary: One continues eating even when not hungry and feels a lack of control or inability to stop eating during this time;
- Coupled with these episodes are counteractive behaviors like induced vomiting, over-exercising, skipping a number of meals or misusing laxatives or diet pills to compensate for the amount of food consumed;
- Disappearing into the restroom after meals;
- Evidence of binge-eating episodes (multiple empty containers or wrappers from food products);
- Tooth decay from excessive vomiting.
- Frequent episodes of eating more than is necessary, and feeling a lack of control during said episodes;
- Binge-eating is not followed by purging behaviors, so individuals who binge-eat are more likely to be overweight;
- Feelings of shame or guilt in regard to eating behaviors and bodily appearance are likely.
- A serious preoccupation with weight loss and calorie limiting, including restricting foods, drinking low calorie beverages, and cutting out entire food groups;
- Never being hungry;
- Compulsive exercise;
- Signs of binging or purging;
- The inability to regulate one’s body temperature as a result of malnutrition.
ARFID (Avoidant-Restrictive Food Intake Disorder)
- Dramatic changes in weight loss through limiting food intake;
- The inability to retain heat that causes one to complain about cold, layer clothing or (if the disorder has progressed) caused the body to grow a fine layer of hair all over the body as a means of keeping in heat.
- Only eating foods with certain textures;
- Fears about choking or vomiting while eating which can cause even more restrictive food intake and malnutrition.
If you notice one or more of these signs in yourself or in the life of your loved one, help is available. While bringing up the topic of an eating disorder is never easy, it can remind struggling loved ones about the hope and freedom made possible through recovery.
Help is here and recovery is possible
Perhaps you’re an older woman, or maybe you have an important older woman in your life you’re looking out for — no matter the case, Seeds of Hope can help.
Through holistic methods and personalized treatment plans, you can find the support and help you need today. Schedule your appointment today or call (610) 644-6464 to pursue the life you know you deserve.