We tend to think of eating disorders as something that affects young people rather than older generations. However, eating disorders are not exclusive to young people. Many people develop eating disorders later in life, and older generations are some of the most vulnerable when it comes to developing unhealthy relationships with eating. Food - both restricting and overeating - is one of the most common ways both men and women of all ages deal with mood, anxiety, and stress levels.
There are a lot of major changes that come later in life, and bodies change over time.
For women, menopause results in changes in hormones, weight, and shape. These changes can lead to feelings of insecurity and/or lack of control and can lead to unhealthy habits and patterns surrounding diet and exercise. The societal expectations for women as they age perpetuate negative self-image. Women may struggle with visibly aging or experiencing changes in their body size. Much of popular media and advertising convey messages equating beauty to youth and thinness. This combination can be detrimental to self-image and self-esteem, which can lead to disordered eating which is likely to be missed.
While beauty standards for men are different, men can also experience similar feelings from changes to their bodies as they age. In previous blog posts, we have discussed the stigma surrounding men and mental health (link); this can also be a factor in the development of eating disorders or other mental health issues as many men do not feel comfortable opening up about their hardships. Disordered eating in older people may not be recognised as such and problems may persist for some time without any access to support or good quality information for those experiencing them.
Major life transitions occur later in life that contribute to mood changes, anxiety, and stress such as changes in family dynamics - having kids, divorce, kids growing up and moving out, job transitions and losses, bereavement, financial hardships, and anxiety about the future and getting older.
It is important to be aware of some of the challenges older generations face and how it may contribute to distress and unhealthy behaviors. Older generations may not be as comfortable with having conversations about mental health, as mental health awareness and the norm of seeking support is a relatively recent phenomenon. It is important to include older generations in conversations about eating disorders and other mental health struggles, as they are some of the most vulnerable.
At Beanbag Health, we want to be inclusive of people with different stories and ages. We'd love to hear your story if you or a loved one have or are struggling with and eating disorder and what helps you. Reach out to us at email@example.com to share!
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Jack is an intern at Beanbag Health. He is a senior at the University of Connecticut, majoring in Management. Jack states that he has already learned so much during his time at Beanbag Health and feels excited to be a part of a company that is working towards making eating disorder recovery support more accessible. He is looking forward to a future where everyone will be able to access affordable and effective mental health care.
Clinically Reviewed By:
Iain is a consultant psychiatrist with postgraduate training in medicine, psychiatry, complexity science, and healthcare informatics. He's fascinated by the relationship between physical health and mental health and has extensive experience with eating disorder patients in inpatient settings. He's an honorary senior clinical lecturer at University of Oxford. His passion is making psychological strategies for recovery available to all.