Mental health

EDAW myth busting! #4

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week and this year I’m taking some time to bust some myths!

Eating disorders only occur in young people

A YouGov poll commissioned by Beat found that 60% of respondents thought eating disorders predominantly affected young people. It is true that eating disorders occur in adolescents and children as young as 6 years old but the largest group of sufferers is adults.

A myth like this perpetuates the idea that eating disorders are a fad or a phase and that young people will grow out of it. This is harmful for young people, as it risks them not getting the full support they need but it also put adults at risk of not getting any support.

An adult may suffer a relapse or they may experience an eating disorder for the first time; triggering events may be parenting, work capabilities, relationships difficulties or bereavement. Specific difficulties may include events that target identity or changes in bodily appearance such as:

  • Pregnancy
  • Children leaving home (empty nest)
  • Slowing metabolism leading to weight gain (middle-aged spread)
  • Menopause
  • Retirement
  • Age related appetite decrease (important to differentiate biological causes from mental and emotional appetite decrease)
  • Physical illness (relationship between physical and mental illness can be complicate)

Co-morbid mental illnesss such as depression or anxiety are common.

It’s important that an eating disorder is recognised in an older adult. The physical consequences, such as nutrient deficiency and malnutrition, are dangerous as their bodies cannot manage the physical strain as a younger body might be able to. Older people are more at risk of developing diabetes and osteoporosis, conditions which can be severely exacerbated by an eating disorder.

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