According to the NHS, an eating disorder is ‘a Mental Health Condition where you use the control of food to cope with feelings and other situations.’
This- wanting to be ‘in control’- is something that I think most people, if not all, will relate to. It is certainly not something that is exclusively felt by one specific age group, nor one specific gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background, etc.
So why then, do we assume that eating disorders are an illness that exclusively affect individuals of a younger age?
The reason why I believe the above to be true, is because people with no prior experience of eating disorders tend to wrongfully hold the view that eating disorders are solely triggered by poor body image, something that is often exemplified in adolescence, when young people are navigating through the turbulent journey of puberty and are trying to ‘fit in’ and ‘find their place in the world.’ Whilst this- body image- can be a trigger for eating disorders, it is very rarely the root cause of ED’s, because, as the NHS definition states, eating disorders are about ‘control.’
In a life which now more than ever feels so out of our control, it should come as no surprise that eating disorders are on the rise, amongst both older age groups and younger age groups, thus dismantling the myth that eating disorders are a ‘teenage’ illness.
The idea that this is the case, that eating disorders do only affect teenagers, is very much a misconception, (and a dangerous one at that), with eating disorders affecting people of all ages.
Whilst it is true that most eating disorders do develop during adolescence, there are an increasing number of cases which see eating disorders developing in children as young as 5, and in adults as old as 70.
Focusing on the latter- on older age groups- I want to point out the fact that the increase in adults being diagnosed with eating disorders might not necessarily be due to an increase in people of an older generation developing eating disorders (though, that is sometimes the case.) Instead, it could be that they developed the disorder in their younger years, but it has taken until now for them to seek help for it, perhaps because they struggled with feeling as though they weren’t ‘ill enough’ (something that a lot of people with eating disorders report feeling like.) Though, whatever the reason for people being diagnosed with eating disorders in later life, the point is that people just are diagnosed with eating disorders in later life. This is something that should be accepted and treated accordingly, rather than being overlooked and presumed to be another, more ‘common’ illness.
The reason why it is so important to dismantle the myth that eating disorders solely affect younger age groups, is to help everyone struggling, particularly people who might not fit the stereotypical image of an eating disorder sufferer, feel validated in their struggles.
As a parting reminder:
- Eating disorders can, and do, affect people of all ages. Be mindful of this fact to ensure that you don’t unintentionally discourage people from seeking potentially lifesaving, (certainly life changing), help and support.
- If you’re an older adult with an eating disorder, I see you, and you deserve help and support to get well again.
- Recovery is possible.
- It’s never too late.
- YOU’VE GOT THIS.