Eating Disorders: 5 Things To Know
Although most people think of eating disorder sufferers as being teenage girls, this isn’t always the case and many people are affected by eating disorders. It’s true that those who are at the highest risk of developing eating disorders are aged between 13 and 18 years, older people can be susceptible too.
From going through the menopause to suffering a relationship breakdown, there are many reasons why someone may begin to experience body image issues and develop adult eating disorders.
Therefore, it’s important for everyone to be more aware of the existence of eating disorders in the adult population so that the signs and symptoms can be spotted quickly and appropriate treatment sought out at a dedicated facility like The Meadowglade.
What Kind Of Adult Eating Disorders Are There?
Adults can suffer from the same kinds of eating disorders as teenagers. These include:
- Anorexia nervosa – this is a condition characterized by a fear of putting on weight and refusing to eat food. While some sufferers restrict their diet severely, others restrict food while also purging or over-exercising. Anorexia can result in severe medical problems which include not only psychological implications but also osteoporosis, heart issues or even death.
- Bulimia nervosa – this is a condition characterized by purging and binge-eating cycles. Sufferers often use diuretics or laxatives or exercise excessively to lose weight. Often, sufferers have a normal body weight and this causes their condition to be overlooked, often for years. Despite appearing to have a normal weight, people suffering from bulimia sometimes suffer from severe medical problems like ruptures in the esophagus or stomach, or heart failure.
- Binge eating disorder – this is a condition characterized by bingeing. In this respect, it is similar to bulimia, but the sufferer doesn’t purge afterward. They may diet or fast afterwards to compensate for over-eating, and sufferers experience shame, self-hatred, and guilt. Some physical impacts include hypertension, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, cancer, gallbladder disease, heart disease, and strokes.
- Disordered eating – this is not a specific condition but rather refers to eating patterns which have some of the characteristics associated with other forms of an eating disorder. Sufferers may always be on a diet or have an uncomfortable or challenging relationship with eating and food.
Why Do Many Adult Eating Disorders Go Unrecognized?
There are a number of reasons why people with adult eating disorders often fly under the radar. These include:
- It’s easy to hide – when teenagers still live at home with their parents, they find it difficult to hide their eating disorder. Despite working hard to keep it secret, usually family members become aware of the problem and of the behaviors like vomiting, bingeing, over-exercise, and laxative misuse which are hard to hide. Adults who live independently don’t need to work as hard to hide their eating disorder. When you can buy food yourself and eat it whenever you like, it’s easy to keep eating disorders secret for years.
- Misconceptions about eating disorders – lots of people think that everyone with an eating disorder is extremely thin. This isn’t always the case, however. People who are overweight or have a normal body weight can have adult eating disorders too.
- Dieting is considered to be normal – these days, dieting is pretty common in society. Billions of people spent a fortune every year on attending weight loss classes and in buying products which promise to help us shed the pounds. This makes it hard to spot the difference between an eating disorder and the latest fad diet.
- Food intolerances – many people today have food intolerances, and this has become quite acceptable in society. This makes it easier for people with adult eating disorders to use food intolerances as an excuse to avoid eating whole food groups. For example, claiming that you are lactose intolerant means you don’t have to eat dairy foods while a claim of gluten intolerance means you don’t need to eat fattening foods like pasta and bread.
- Vegetarianism – more people in society today are becoming vegetarian or even vegan. This makes it easier for those suffering from adult eating disorders to claim that they are vegetarian to reduce their food intake and to cut out whole food groups.
- Fewer family meals – most people today live hectic lifestyles and there are limited opportunities for families to sit down to eat together at mealtimes. This makes it easier for eating disorders to go unnoticed.
What Are The Signs Of Adult Eating Disorders?
There are several different adult eating disorders but some of the common symptoms or signs to look out for include:
- Avoiding eating in front of other people
- Anxiety or irritability at mealtimes
- Categorizing foods as bad or good
- Being preoccupied with body shape, weight, and food
- Having a poor body image
- Feeling cold, even when the weather is warm
- Wearing baggy clothes
- Hidden food
- Missing money or food
- Hidden food containers or wrappers
- Going to the bathroom straight after eating
- Damage to the gums and teeth
- Swollen salivary glands
- Sores in the throat and mouth
- A raspy voice
- Obsessive exercising
- Not eating whole food groups because of a food intolerance, diet or vegetarianism
Diagnosing and Treating Adult Eating Disorders
While eating disorders are often spotted relatively quickly in teenagers, adults often go for longer without getting the diagnosis and help they need. This is because it is much easier to hide the signs and symptoms of eating disorders once you are independent. Many adults with eating disorders also have other health problems like anxiety or depression, and this complicates their treatment still further.
The type of treatment suitable for those with adult eating disorders depends on which kind of eating disorder someone suffers from as well as how long they have been suffering, how severe it is and whether there are co-occurring disorders like depression or anxiety. Usually, the best approach is a multi-disciplinary one which involves dieticians, doctors, and therapists.
Why Do Adult Eating Disorders Arise?
Adults who have eating disorders usually fall into one of three categories. Some will have always struggled with disordered eating behaviors since they were teenagers but didn’t develop a full-blown disorder until reaching adulthood. Others may have been treated successfully as a teenager for their eating disorder but have relapsed during adulthood. Some will have only developed their eating disorder when they became an adult.
In fact, later in life is one of the key times for adult eating disorders to develop. This is because of the biological changes we go through as we reach middle age. Signs of aging such as wrinkles, gray hair, weight gain, and reduced muscle tone all cause body image issues. Not only that, but there’s a greater chance of traumatic life events such as divorce, retirement, or death of a loved one which can end up having an impact on eating behaviors.
There are many issues connected to developing adult eating disorders. Not least, the fact that most people still believe only adolescents develop eating disorders. Also, the focus on reducing obesity these days means that being thin holds huge importance, even to doctors. This means that, as long as a sufferer isn’t dangerous underweight, their condition is likely to go unnoticed or even applauded by their doctor rather than causing concern.
Yet it’s important for everyone to not only recognize that eating disorders occur in people of all ages and both sexes, but to recognize the common signs and symptoms of those adult eating disorders in practice. Regardless of the age at which you develop an eating disorder, it is equally serious and can still be a life-threatening illness. In some ways, adults are even more at risk than teenagers since their older bodies are less robust. This means that spotting the signs of problems when they are in their early stages is key to preventing more severe patterns of disordered eating from emerging while also increasing the chance of a complete recovery.
With this in mind, let’s look at five things that you probably didn’t know about adult eating disorders that you really should be aware of.
1.Eating Disorders Affect All Kinds Of People
One key fact that is still misunderstood about eating disorders is that they don’t discriminate against people of any age or sex. Both old and young people can suffer as well as people of all races and both genders. The National Eating Disorders Association carried out research which showed that 90% of adult females have serious concerns about their body weight while 60% have weight control behavior which is at risk of turning into a disordered eating pattern. Around 30 million people in the USA suffer from eating disorders, and of those, a third are male. These statistics only go to show that all too often we as a society have a cliched idea of how an eating disorder sufferer should look which is often wrong.
2.The Signs Of Adult Eating Disorders Vary
All too often, we think of the signs of eating disorders being a refusal to eat, or of spending hours in the bathroom straight after a meal.
While these are symptoms to be aware of, the signs of an adult eating disorder can present itself in different ways depending on the disorder that the individual is suffering from. Some sufferers may begin to lose weight rapidly and start eating less food, but others may begin to consume large amounts of food regularly, or begin to hide food wrappers and packaging. Others will simply start commenting negatively on their own weight or appearance or start eliminating certain types of food from their diet.
Some may even start going to the gym more often or begin to avoid socializing at events which involve food or drink. These signs may be subtle and varied, and this is what makes it so difficult to identify adult eating disorders.
3. There Are More Adult Eating Disorders Than Just Anorexia And Bulimia
Even today, most people tend to think of anorexia and bulimia as being the only two eating disorders out there. However, that certainly isn’t the case.
Over time, eating disorders are evolving and changing far beyond the better-known illnesses. Some examples of more “modern” adult eating disorders include orthorexia, which is a fixation with only eating pure or healthy foods, and bigorexia which is characterized by becoming obsessed with building up muscle by exercising excessively.
Just because these conditions aren’t as well known as the two most famous eating disorders, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t equally serious or dangerous to the sufferer’s long-term health and well-being.
4. Eating Disorders Are All-Consuming
Although most people have an aspect of their appearance which they don’t like or would rather change, they don’t become obsessed by such imperfections. However, those with these disorders become so consumed with those perceived imperfections that it starts to interfere with their everyday life. They begin to think constantly about food, their body image or weight all day long and lose any ability to control those negative thought patterns.
As a result, they suffer from extreme emotional distress which prevents them from gaining any enjoyment from other, usually pleasurable activities in their lives.
5. Recovery Is Possible
Although it may seem impossible to recover from an eating disorder, there is plenty of help out there to support those who are suffering. The key is to be aware and educated about the signs and symptoms to ensure that early intervention is possible.
If more people understand what they should be looking out for in terms of disordered eating patterns, they will be better able to give the necessary support to their loved ones who are suffering and to help them to get the professional treatment that they need.
Challenging The Misconceptions About Eating Disorders
As you can see, there are many misconceptions about eating disorders, not least that only young people can be sufferers. With growing awareness of the existence of adult eating disorders, we are hopefully moving towards faster diagnosis and speedier professional treatment so that older sufferers can have the best chance at a complete recovery.
If you or someone you love is dealing with an eating disorder, you have options. The Meadowglade, located in sunny Southern California, is known for our dedicated staff and unique approach to eating disorder recovery. Reach out today in order to find out how our facility can help you heal!