You Must Be Hungry

A food critic grapples with her daughter's eating disorders.

Acting our age

When eating disorders occur at midlife and beyond

 

 

Had he been diagnosed with anorexia earlier, the disease might not have progressed so far.

So far, this sounds like a sadly common story, except for the anorectic person being a male. The patient had always been "oversized," or felt fat, and suddenly started losing weight. Severe restriction, fear of weight gain, distorted body image, it all descended and the patient died. He was 80 years old.

Eating disorders among people over 50 have tripled in the past decade, by some estimates. www.trishagura.com As with eating disorders in general, by far the patients are women.

In trendy Silicon Valley, more women in their 50s have been attending support groups sponsored by the Eating Disorders Resource Center. "And we have had several recently who have been admitted to treatment programs and are doing better...after many years of not getting help," said Janice Bremis, executive director of the EDRC. http://www.edrcsv.org/

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

"I see a lot of older women with eating disorders when at the Stanford Shopping Center," Bremis said. Stanford is the area's most upscale center. "I think many go undiagnosed and untreated for years, or have been in treatment and failed and the illness has become chronic."

Divorce, empty nest, any number of life changes in the 50s can trigger eating disorders.

"Act your age!" Um, no thanks. Not if you're the elder child, having to be responsible or rise above some dumb thing your sibling is doing. Not, increasingly, if you're the elder man or woman, falling into the rabbit hole of eating disorders, the province popularly attached to teenage girls, anxious about who they are and will grow up to be, very susceptible to media and social pressures to be thin.
Is this another thing Baby Boomers just can't let go? Unlike jeans and rock music, though, eating disorders are deadly. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.


Poverty, loneliness, and social isolation are the predominant social factors that contribute to decreased food intake in the elderly. Depression, often associated with loss or deterioration of social networks, is a common psychological problem in the elderly and a significant cause of loss of appetite. The reduction in food intake may be due to the reduced drive to eat (hunger) resulting from a lower need state, or it arises because of more rapidly acting or more potent inhibitory (satiety) signals. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed


There are physiological changes in the stomach that cause the elderly to feel full before they've taken in enough nutrition. The fun of eating - the opiod effects - decline with age. As do many of the unavoidable aspects of aging: prescription medications that affect appetite and absorption of food, dentures and insufficient dental care.


The National Center for Biotechnology Information concluded:

There is now good evidence that, although age-related reduction in energy intake is largely a physiologic effect of healthy aging, it may predispose to the harmful anorectic effects of psychological, social, and physical problems that become increasingly frequent with aging. Poor nutritional status has been implicated in the development and progression of chronic diseases commonly affecting the elderly. Protein-energy malnutrition is associated with impaired muscle function, decreased bone mass, immune dysfunction, anemia, reduced cognitive function, poor wound healing, delayed recovery from surgery, and ultimately increased morbidity and mortality.
But diagnosing eating disorders in the elderly is complicated.

 

Had he been diagnosed with anorexia earlier, the disease might not have progressed so far.


Social worker Nikki Rosen writes movingly about her dad in the May-June issue of Eating Disorders Review. http://www.eatingdisordersreview.com/nl/nl_edt_3.html

 

"Why aren't you eating, Dad?"


"Look." He smiled as he unfastened his belt buckle and pulled his pants out in front to show how big they had become.


"But you're losing too much weight." I tried to reason with him.


"I like this. I like that I am finally thin."

 

 

Sheila Himmel is an award-winning food journalist. She and her daughter, Lisa, wrote Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Battle Anorexia.

more...

Subscribe to You Must Be Hungry

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.