Releasing the stigma of eating disorders as “adolescent disease”

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week! (February 23 through March 1st, 2014)

I am very passionate about spreading awareness of this disease, as I had anorexia and bulimia when I was younger. Eating disorders have the highest mortality of rate of any mental illness.  Many people who struggle  go unnoticed or cannot get the proper care because of lack of treatment facilities.  It’s time to spread the word  that this is a serious illness and to spread awareness about how it effects people of all race, age and gender.

In honor of this week, I will be regularly posting blog posts on different topics regarding eating disorders.  This first post is all about eating disorders in adults.


At this very moment, there are 50 year old women, feeling lonely and out of control, who seek refuge in throwing up what they ate.  There are 40 year old moms who have just been divorced, who innocently start off losing weight and find themselves consuming very few  calories a day.  They may have had an eating disorder in the past, had kids, recovered and then relapsed.  They may have never fully recovered because they didn’t receive the proper treatment.  And for  some, this may be their first encounter with the terrible monster known as “ED”.

A groundbreaking 2012 study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that about 13 percent of women over 50 exhibit eating disorder symptoms.

Read more:

We tend to think of eating disorders as an “adolescent disease” but more and more cases of adults with eating disorders are showing up as doctors are starting to take it seriously.  Why is it that adults are hanging on to this disease?  For the most part, their symptoms go unnoticed by doctors who may think that perhaps they are starting menopause or that they are just going on a diet.  Many women may have started off overweight and find that the positive comments on weight loss far out weigh their fears of gaining weight or feeling out of control.   Not all eating disorders, especially in adults, result in emaciation.

For some, the eating disorder may have started out as innocent dieting.


EDfact1PicMonkey Collage

35% of normal dieters progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders.

(Shisslak, C.M., Crago, M., & Estes, L.S. (1995). The Spectrum of Eating Disturbances. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 18 (3): 209-219.)

The desire to look a certain way as an adult is exacerbated by the constant messages of needing to look younger.  Anti-aging creams abound.  Women celebrities are always touting “get your body back with this diet”.  Women feel inferior and think that dieting must be the answer.

I can understand the “high” of losing weight and not being able to stop.  If we wrap our identity around pleasing others and receiving compliments, panic can set in if we think about putting the brakes on weight loss.  The fear of gaining weight may become greater than the fear of death.

Of course, as the statistic suggests, not all women are prone to eating disorders triggered by dieting. I’m sure there are many factors that go into it, such as an obsessive-compulsive tendency, perfectionism, and recent trauma which leads to a loss of feeling in control.

But the bottom line is this:  why start dieting in the first place?  Only 15% (and some studies say only 5%) of women dieters keep the weight off after two years.  Diets do not work and can be further damaging.

If you have a friend who just can’t stop talking about how much she hates her body (or his for that matter), if you notice she eats very little, or if she has fluctuations in her weight, please gently ask how she’s been feeling lately around her body and food.   It’s time for society (and doctors) to stop ignoring the possibility that adults are suffering from eating disorders and it’s time to start asking the right questions so they can get the proper help.  There should be no shame in an adult being able to say that he/she struggles with their body and food.  We are all on a continuum anyway– most of us hate our body (studies say around 90%) and almost all of us have some kind of addiction, weather it be to food or something else.  We all understand the need to control our body when we are stressed and overwhelmed.

If you struggle with feeling like you don’t measure up, and if you feel like you’ve taken things too far with your eating, please do NOT hesitate to get help.   Your family and friends need you to be healthy, happy and strong. 

Here are some resources of places that treat adults:

To making peace with your body,

Kellie McGarry

Certified Holistic Health Coach

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