Who is affected?

Eating disorders usually pop up in times of transitions, but society mostly thinks it happens in transitions of the young: puberty, leaving home for the first, starting college. Eating disorders, mostly, aren’t considered an issue for the mature adult who may be going through a career change. In reality, more and more older adults are turning with eating disorders. A study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders surveyed almost 2,000 women ages 50 and older. More than 70% of them were currently trying to lose weight, and 80% said their weight and body shape affected their self-image. More than 10% of these women had signs of an eating disorder. This is crucial information because there are 53 million women ages 50 and older in the United States.

Eating disorders on the rise in middle-aged adults

According to experts, eating disorders are on the rise among middle-aged individuals and may also present with some unique challenges in regards to this population. Stressors impacting middle-aged individuals, which could contribute to the development or maintenance of an eating disorder include, children leaving the home, career stress, marital discord, divorce, and caring for elderly parents. Some individuals relapsed in midlife due to a stressor such as a divorce, death, or infidelity, whereas others have struggled with an eating disorder since childhood. Additionally, middle-aged individuals also may be faced with unique challenges when seeking treatment for their eating disorders.

For instance, older women may also feel they are somehow to blame for having a “girl’s disease” (since anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are stigmatized as young teenager’s disorders), making it harder for them to seek or accept treatment, even though they were probably always disposed to developing an eating disorder. Another major challenge is that seeking treatment for an eating disorder may require a middle-aged individual to put their career on hold. Many middle-aged individuals in careers struggle with the following thoughts:

  • Should I share this with my clients or coworkers?
  • Will this impact my career in some way?
  • Will my coworkers, manager, and clients think that I am unstable or judge me as being “weak?

Making the decision to seek treatment and taking a break from your career

The effects of eating disorders can be debilitating, and often, a person will suffer in silence due to a variety of reasons, including shame, guilt, and fear. For the person who has an established career or business, treatment may be avoided or postponed due to fear of falling behind, losing business, work, and money. The decision to put your career on hold in order to receive treatment for your eating disorder can be challenging and the above concerns are definitely legitimate. For instance, there are important factors to consider when contemplating taking a leave of absence from work to seek eating disorder treatment, such as the financial impact, as well as potential career ramifications. As an individual’s health slowly begins to fade or eating disorder symptoms become more severe, functioning properly on the job may become more difficult. Everything from concentrating, making important decisions, relating to co-workers, traveling and more can become increasingly difficult while struggling with an eating disorder. You can determine how much you feel comfortable disclosing to your colleagues surrounding your decision. Additionally, it is possible that some may judge you for your decision to seek treatment-however its important to not blame yourself if these judgments do occur. Further, the decision to seek treatment is not a sign of weakness-rather seeking help when you are struggling is truly a sign of strength.