How sad that, in our culture, a woman’s relationship with her body often causes insecurity, fear, self-doubt, shame, guilt, low self-esteem, and all too often, self-hatred.
The statistics are downright shocking; more than 5-10 million girls and women and 1 million boys and men in the US are struggling with eating disorders – anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder (compulsive overeating).
Here is an article about eating disorders in those over the age of 50, written by Kimberly Singh, MS, RD.
*I am using the term “women” in this introduction to refer to any individual with female anatomy, or who undergoes the process of peri-menopause and menopause with diminishing levels of estrogen. I want to acknowledge people who may not identify as female but who go through these physical changes, and they will be referred to as *people* in the blog post written by Kimmie Singh, MS, RD.
Written by: Kimberly Singh, MS, RD
When eating disorders come to mind, many people think of young, thin teenage girls. They fail to recognize that anyone outside of this category can even have anything remotely similar to an eating disorder, regardless of how much shame or disappointment they feel around their bodies. Many people blindly accept that, as your body gets older and/or larger, you simply become more and more unsatisfied with the way it looks. They fail to question how these thoughts affect their relationships with food and body. These thoughts may even be the foundation of a developing eating disorder or disordered eating.
Research suggests that people of all ages and sizes can have eating disorders. A study found that 13% of people assigned female at birth had at least one eating disorder symptom. Research also shows that people who are unhappy with their bodies are more likely to struggle in their relationship with food. Approximately 70% of people assigned female at birth that are over the age of 50 reported feeling dissatisfied with their bodies.
As society actively tells people that being younger and thinner is the beauty ideal, it becomes increasingly difficult for people to embrace their bodies throughout the aging process. The overall acceptance that beauty will never exist alongside an aging body makes eating disorder recovery a lonely road to travel for people at older ages.
Middle-aged people face so many difficult life changes. Oftentimes, people find themselves in a painful place of transition.
Common problems that people face include divorce, widowhood, adult children leaving the household, and health concerns for yourself or your loved ones. I do not want to understate how life-changing all of these experiences can be. These events can leave you full of grief, missing a time in your life that you only know how to associate with youth. Experiencing these challenges, in addition to the overall process of menopause, can make life full of unwanted and unexpected changes.
Not only is society not supportive of accepting the aging body, but people experiencing menopause are also learning to navigate the changes that come along with new hormonal fluctuations.
Reductions in estrogen levels may increase the risk of depression, disrupt sleep patterns, and influence mood. These changes would make it difficult for anyone to stay totally connected and in tune with their bodies.
A common experience of menopause is also weight gain. This weight gain may be a new experience that brings people to experience weight stigma for the first time. Having a larger body might require purchasing new clothes and saying goodbye to old clothes. The challenges associated with learning to navigate the world in a body that feels foreign and new may leave you longing for the familiarity and safety of existing in a body size that you have had for most of your life.
It is painful to process these changes while trying to heal your relationship with your body.
Many messages around eating disorder recovery promote accepting and loving your body, regardless of your size. These messages are crucial for laying the foundation for a new beauty standard; however, it is also important to create space and compassion for each moment that you do not feel love and acceptance towards your body.
You may already be experiencing shame in various areas in your life, and the last thing you need is added shame about not fully embracing your body. Allowing yourself to explore the spectrum of feelings you have about your body is an important part of recovery and better connecting to yourself. Although the pain of society not accepting your aging body may linger, the process of connecting to yourself through compassion and curiosity is one that will reward you for the rest of your life.
Online Programs to Help You Make Peace with Your Body and Food
Intuitive Eating Essentials for Midlife, Menopause and Beyond: This is a self-paced program that explores your relationship with food, your dieting history, readiness to integrate intuitive eating into your life, and teaches you how to use your values to make peace with food. Click here for all the details!