How to Handle Adult Eating Disorders

© iStockphoto/Thinkstock“Scary skinny” isn’t just for teenagers any more. Grown-up women can succumb to dangerously disturbed eating, too. We hope

Disordered Eating© iStockphoto/Thinkstock“Scary skinny” isn’t just for teenagers any more. Grown-up women can succumb to dangerously disturbed eating, too. We hope you’re not in that number! But if you suspect (or know!) that you are, please ask for help. Sufferers who get well have very low relapse rates. And no, you won’t be shuttled off to a ward for force feeding. That is sometimes necessary for kids, but not for women of a certain age. Treatment and recovery is slow and steady – and you won’t end up fat! In fact, your weight is very likely to stabilize in a healthy range for the first time in a long time. Now have a look at these fascinating factoids about eating disorders:

Any woman can fall victim to the “athletic triad.”

Most often observed in elite athletes and dancers, the triple whammy of eating disorders, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis can strike any woman who becomes an exercise junkie and perpetual dieter. Having your periods stop even before you hit menopause may sound appealing but it’s a bad situation for your endocrine system. Worse yet, bones already thinning somewhat with age can become even more brittle and breakable. Yes, the cultural ideal of being fit and thin puts a lot of pressure on women but don’t let it drive you to habits that can wreak havoc with your health.

Mid-life downers may bring on disordered eating.

A fractious divorce and the subsequent loneliness . . . a job loss and financial problems . . . the shock of an empty nest . . .the shock of a nest suddenly full again with returning “adultescents” . . . caring for elderly parents . . .losing your parents . . . menopause miseries. The litany goes on and on. Some women begin to feel totally out of control and they react by obsessively trying to control their weight. Ironically, as they shed pounds they are almost certain to start getting compliments. That’s exactly the self-esteem boost they’re craving so they stay on the weight loss regimen in order to garner even more praise. Unfortunately, this behavior can spiral into serious eating disorders if it’s not checked right away.

Women are ten times more likely than men to have eating disorders.

Nobody knows for sure why this is so but some experts blame estrogen – or the relative lack thereof after menopause. Other people point to the double standard for women and men when it comes to looks. A guy can still get away with being called “distinguished” when he’s gray at the temples and sports a paunch but society judges older women much more harshly. Both a competitive job market and a search for love at a certain age may prompt risky weight loss tactics for boomer women.

Eating disorders become a vicious cycle.

Changes over time in the neuroendocrine system from disordered eating result in a self-perpetuating cycle that keeps sufferers in its grip. Many women report not ever feeling hungry even though they have become practically skeletal. What’s more, they “feel fat” although the mirror should belie that.

Eating disorders may run in families.

Was your mother or your aunt or your grandmother prone to eating disorders? Then you are probably at a higher risk than normal. Research suggests that faulty estrogen receptors could be the culprits. However, you can outsmart your genes with healthy habits — and professional help if necessary.

Anorexia is less common than bulimia but has the highest mortality rate.

Anorectics get frighteningly thin simply by eating as little as possible whereas bulimics typically binge and purge and don’t always lose a great deal of weight. That’s why anorectics are the ones who can fall victim to bradycardia, an unusually low heart rate that can lead to death. Most anorectics are diagnosed when they are a shocking 15% below normal weight.

Bulimia is likely to bring on heart problems.

Along with such issues as esophagus burns from forced vomiting, tooth decay, and dehydration, bulimics may develop an electrolyte imbalance that poses a threat to a healthy heart. Also, bulimia is the disorder most likely to develop during the 30s or later.

Eating disorder not otherwise specified: the EDNOS syndrome.

Along with the more widely known problems of anorexia and bulimia, EDNOS is now recognized as a bona fide category of eating disorders. Symptoms and behavior can include on-again-off-again gluttony with starvation or fasting in between, extreme exercise followed by secret food binges, getting up to eat vast amounts in the middle of the night, chewing and spitting out food instead of swallowing it, and even “picky eating” that involves sticking to only one or two food items and refusing everything else. EDNOS can be hard to detect because many people with the disorder remain at a normal weight or are even somewhat overweight.

Again, if you think you may have an eating disorder, get treatment without delay. Your body – and ultimately your heart and soul – will thank you!

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest