What's eating you? Eating Disorders on the rise among baby boomers

Jayne B. Stearns

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Let's face it. Aging can be a challenge to body image. Although we may feel young and youthful inside, one trip to the mirror can wreck any youthful illusions we may have about aging gracefully without wrinkles and tummy fat. Still, in defiance of the obvious, a Pew Research Center survey confirms that most of us feel at least 10-20 years younger than we are. And a glance at the birthdate on the driver's license only confirms it. Have you recently applied online for any credit cards? Scrolling down through the years to find your birthdate can feel like hours.

Sigh.

We are bombarded with youthful advertisements on TV and in newspapers and magazines to compound this. When was the last time you saw a 68-year-old woman modeling a bra and panties while using a walker to help keep her upright? I thought so. Never. Isn't it evident that our society values youth?

The pandemic hasn't made it easier for those with a propensity toward eating disorders. According to the JAMA Network, hospitalization rates for eating disorders roughly doubled compared to the rates in the prior two years. In addition, those admitted to the hospital stay almost 50% longer.

Anne E. Becker, psychiatrist and director of the Eating Disorders Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and president of the Academy for Eating Disorders, says,

"As our society values youth and as baby boomers reinvent what it means to be middle-aged, there are growing social forces that can undermine older women's self-esteem and potentially lead to body dissatisfaction — for example, if you think the surface of your skin or the contours of your body aren't supposed to match your chronological age. That, combined with health concerns about obesity, can make people feel bad about their bodies and, in turn, could result in eating strategies that undermine well-being."

Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia, Binge Eating: a rose by any other name would still be an Eating Disorder

No longer the realm of angst-ridden adolescents and stigmatized mainly as a teenager's disease, eating disorders for those women over 50 have become a growing concern among treatment professionals in recent years. In fact, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School, the percentage of people ages 65 and over tripled among those engaged in strict dieting or fasting, nearly tripled among binge eaters, and quadrupled among purgers.

Are you having problems with body image? And if so, is it interfering with your life According to Harvard Health, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you worry about your body and aging more than your friends do What efforts do you make to hide these changes?
  • If you had the choice between living an extra five years and attaining your perfect weight, would you choose to attain your ideal weight?
  • Do you and your friends spend a lot of time discussing diets, weight, your looks, gym routines, etc.?Does the number on the scale determine your mood for the day?
  • Do you spend an excessive amount of time planning what to eat and not to eat and how to get enough exercise?
  • Do you gravitate toward health regimens that involve purging or restricting food - for example, going gluten- or yeast-free, becoming a vegan, fasting, or doing colonics or cleanses?

If you responded yes to one or more questions, it might be time to seek professional help. In the meantime, try to shift your energy away from body image and food Seniors are less amenable to seeking help with eating disorders than their teenage counterparts. There could be a variety of reasons you've manifested an eating disorder. So, the sooner you find access to support, the sooner you'll feel better!

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Sources

1 Disordered eating in midlife and beyond Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School.

https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/disordered-eating-in-midlife-and-beyond

2 Elder Eating Disorders: Surprising New Challenge Today's Geriatric Medicine Jullann Shaeffer.

http://www.todaysgeriatricmedicine.com/news/exclusive_0409_03.shtml

3. Mass General Hospital https://www.massgeneral.org/doctors/16851/Anne-Becker

4 The Jama Network https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2786185?resultClick=3

5. Pew Research Center https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2009/06/29/growing-old-in-america-expectations-vs-reality/

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Jayne is a freelance writer, published poet, and award-winning playwright who specializes in writing human interest stories and anything else that satisfies a multitude of curiosities.

Holyoke, MA
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