National Eating Disorders Awareness Week just ended and I think that should be the beginning of our conversation, not the end. There is a lot of helpful information available on how younger and younger kids are struggling with eating disorders, how 5-year-old girls are saying they are "fat" and how boys are now struggling in significant numbers with one of the deadliest mental illnesses there is.
What you probably have not read, seen or heard much about is the increase in eating disorders among older people, particularly women. There was so little information, in fact, that I checked in with the folks at Eating Recovery Center, where I have gotten a lot of expert advice on eating disorders. Turns out, they are seeing a real upswing in cases of older people struggling with eating disorders and thought it was a great topic to explore. It presents with similarities and differences than the disordered eating in younger women, but because older people are more vulnerable in many ways, an eating disorder in midlife and beyond can be even more dangerous.
Dr. Emmett Bishop, MD, FAED, CEDS, founding partner and medical director of adult services at Eating Recovery Center, was kind enough to take time to help educate me - and now you - on this silent but significant issue.
Q: What are the myths surrounding eating disorders in older people and what are the facts?
Dr. Bishop: "The biggest myth is that this group does not have eating disorders. Although this group has flown under the radar, we are seeing quite a few women in treatment in their 40s, 50s and 60s. We even recently treated an 80-year-old woman."
Dr. Bishop warns that one of the most damaging and dangerous aspects of eating disorders in the aging is that too often, family members will assume the weight loss is related to simply being old, or "that's just the way she is," rather than exploring if something is going on.