If you are a parent, you may know how harmful eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia can be to teen girls and boys. But you may not have considered whether you should be watching for some of those same behaviors in yourself. A history of dissatisfaction with your own body or restrictive dieting may be signs that you are suffering from an adult eating disorder. Find out what to watch for, and how to get help.
Eating Disorders Aren’t Just a Teenage Problem
For a long time, eating disorders were seen as an adolescent problem. While most eating disorders do emerge between the ages of 12 and 25, there is growing evidence to suggest that adults suffer from these disorders as well because:
- Their eating habits caused the condition to go undiagnosed and untreated
- They were diagnosed as teens and continue to struggle with the condition into adulthood
- They face new interpersonal or environmental stresses that trigger the disorder
- They experienced a traumatic event (such as divorce, death, choking incident, or fat-shaming)
- Women experience hormonal shifts in perimenopause that may trigger the condition
In any of these circumstances, men and women alike can face midlife eating disorders that threaten their health and well-being without proper treatment.
Types of Adult Eating Disorders and What to Watch For
Adult eating disorders come in a variety of forms. Body insecurity can result in several different – sometimes dangerous – behaviors. Which form your adult eating disorder takes can affect the way you address it, and the risk of ignoring it. Here are some of the most common types of eating disorders:
Anorexia Nervosa: Watch for Fear of Gaining Weight
Anorexia involves severely restricting your food intake over a long period of time. Those suffering from anorexia often have a distorted body image – believing themselves to be “fatter” than they are – and feel intense fear at the idea of gaining weight. In severe cases, those with anorexia can starve themselves, so those around them should look for signs they are malnourished.
Bulimia Nervosa: Watch for Guilt-Induced Purging
Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by episodes of binging and purging. Someone suffering from bulimia may eat a large amount of food, only to feel shame or guilt for doing so. They will then try to purge the food from their system, possibly by inducing vomiting or taking laxatives or diuretics. This can cause damage to the person’s digestive tract, so those around them should look for frequent and extended periods in the bathroom.
Binge Eating Disorder: Watch for Hidden Eating Sprees
While anorexia and bulimia often result in a loss of weight over time, binge eating disorder often causes you to gain weight. Like bulimia, if you suffer from binge eating disorder you may be ashamed of your desire to eat large amounts of food. However, rather than try to purge, you may take to eating in secret, so others don’t see how much you consume. This can result in obesity-related health issues, like high blood pressure or diabetes, so those around them should look for sudden unexplained weight gain or disappearing groceries.
Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): Watch for Fear of Vomiting
ARFID is a little different from other eating disorders. While the last 3 types are often based on a person’s body image and feelings of guilt or shame, ARFID is based on fear. People with ARFID have an aversion to specific types of food (or sometimes all food). More than just a matter of taste, ARFID goes so far as to affect a person’s nutritional needs, so those around them should look for avoidance of certain categories of foods, unintentional weight loss, or loss of appetite.
Overcoming Midlife Eating Disorders
If you believe you or a loved one is suffering an adult eating disorder, treatment starts with your primary care physician or a psychotherapist experienced in treating the disorder. Because eating disorders put your physical health at risk, your treatment plan should include psychotherapy, physical health care and work with a dietician. This coordinated treatment plan can help you change the disruptive thoughts, feelings, and body images that spur your eating disorder episodes, while at the same time making sure your body gets the nutrition it needs.
David Stanislaw is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience. He helps children, teens and adults with eating disorders and other psychological issues. Contact David Stanislaw to get help today.