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Body Image and Eating Disorders at Midlife & Beyond
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“Eating disorders are a teenage girl disease” – A common and incorrect belief.  

A women in midlife with an eating disorder eating

There exists a stigma around eating disorders (EDs) in our society that there is a “look” to those who are struggling with an ED. And while there is a small percentage of individuals who do fit that stigma, there are far more who don’t. 

The look of an eating disorder can be virtually anything, any gender, any size, any ethnicity, any income level, and any age. Unfortunately, too many individuals who are struggling with eating disorder behaviours later in life are missed and invalidated in their struggles because of this skewed perspective of the illness.  

In adults, an eating disorder can be a recurrence of eating disorder behaviours that originated decades earlier or could be a worsening of disordered eating patterns over time. Eating disorders at midlife or later can also present as brand new.

An eating disorder is not caused by any one thing. We know that eating disorders are multifactorial. There is a large genetic component and an environmental component. 

Later in life, there are many factors that can increase the risk of developing an ED that include but not limited to major transitions (job changes, job loss, or divorce), dieting in an attempt to maintain the physique from younger years, challenging relationships, children moving out, loss of a loved one, unexpected health issues, trauma, and more.  

For women, the physical body changes associated with childbirth, breastfeeding, and menopause can also greatly impact body image which increases the risk of the development of an ED. The research shows us that women in their 30s are at the highest risk of developing an illness called orthorexia. Orthorexia is an obsession with health and eating the “right” things.  

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that is obsessed with “bouncing back” after having a kid or “beating aging”. The expectation on women to not age can lead to more extreme methods of maintaining youth such as extreme diets or exercise, plastic surgery or more. These alone are not the cause of an eating disorder, but they can be a trigger for one.  

The obsession with youth and turning back the clock leads to a greater focus on body image. According to Harvard Health, women also struggle with a sense of losing control over how their body changes with age. They note that changes in estrogen levels seem to play a role in ED development at both ends of the age spectrum.  

What an Eating Disorder Dietitian sees 

As an Eating Disorder Dietitian, I see how hard it can be for individuals who are mid-life or older. They are often both incredibly frustrated and often hopeless. They know that something is wrong and they struggle to make change even though they want to. This might be because either the behaviour has been there for a long time or they feel isolated in the situation making the change feel impossible. The clients that I see often feel that they should “know better’ or “it shouldn’t be this hard”.  

We know that eating disorders are NOT a choice. This is not about knowledge. It is not about knowing what is right or what is harmful to your body. Individuals struggling with eating disorders later in life need support and help to make these changes just the same as individuals earlier in life. There are supports available to help!

So Now What?

Recognition that eating disorders in midlife occur is only the first step. Now that we are aware that they exist, we can help support change.

Here are 6 ways that you can help:  

  1. Call out diet culture and negative body talk when you hear it  
  2. This helps us to show up as an ally and reduce the perceived pressure to achieve a certain body or avoid looking older as we age 
  3. Check-in on the people in your life – of all ages!  
  4. When you notice disordered eating behaviours, gently check in on how a person is doing. Let them know that you care about them and that you will be there to support them. Here are more tips for supporting a friend or a loved one with an eating disorder.
  5. Help them advocate for support.  
  6. Unfortunately, due to the stereotype of eating disorders, not all medical professionals are as aware as needed around eating disorder behaviours. Make sure your loved one is pursuing appropriate supports for them to move towards recovery. Read my blog post on weight stigma in eating disorder treatment to learn more. 

If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, please know that we are here to help. This disorder has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and it needs to be taken seriously at all ages. Our experienced eating disorder dietitians can help. 

Are you looking for a caring and supportive eating disorder dietitian that gets it to guide the way towards recovery? 

Our team of eating disorder dietitians are specialized in helping individuals to overcome eating disorders at any age with a gentle and professional approach. Learn more about our nutrition counselling programs for those with eating disorders or simply click the button below to reach out to see how we can help. 

Don’t forget to check your health insurance. Many insurance plans cover Dietitian services.

Check out these related blog posts on our blog:

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Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. They really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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