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There is still a popular opinion that eating disorder treatment is only for young, affluent, white women. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding can lead to ignoring clear warning signs of binge eating disorder and other eating disorder in groups that fall outside that narrow idea of who can get them. Binge eating disorder treatment centers treat people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and races – and they often have to help their patients overcome being ignored as well as their eating disorder.
When Does Binge Eating Disorder Begin?
Unlike anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, the better-known eating disorders, binge eating disorder doesn’t normally begin during the early teenage years. Its onset comes later, in people’s 20s – or even later. There are some factors in the development of binge eating disorder which make it more likely to begin after adulthood:
- Binge eating episodes tend to begin after dieting successes (i.e. losing weight)
- People often go on diets after age 40 as their metabolism slows down
- Diet “cheat days” can become regular and secretive
- Repetitive behaviors can become compulsive
By the time a person has begun to seek out binge eating disorder treatment near them, these factors have already solidified into a disorder. The issue at hand isn’t that binge eating disorder treatment is a relative unknown (although it’s under-reported and often dismissed), so much as that binge eating disorder warning signs are commonly confused with typical symptoms of “getting older.”
Weight Gain, Diets, and Binge Eating Disorder
It’s no secret that people slow down as they get older – not just in terms of how fast they can run or how far they can jump, but also in terms of metabolism. When we slow down, it’s natural for people to gain some weight. The American obesity epidemic is, of course, a problem, but people everywhere have a tendency to gain weight as they enter middle age and beyond.
Although this weight gain is natural, people want to manage it – for their health, their self-esteem, and of course their looks.
The problem comes when dieting gets out of control. Oftentimes, fad diets or extreme diets will require cutting out an entire food type (like carbs) or push extreme portion control. These stringent restrictions can cause intense cravings to eat those “forbidden” foods. When combined with weight loss due to the diet, people might feel they can cheat every once in a while.
What’s the Difference Between a “Diet Cheat” and Binge Eating Disorders?
Eating disorder rehab centers and other professional therapists know that a positive relationship with food is essential to a happy life, and portion control and nutritional eating are great goals for people who want to control their weight. However, the aggressive nature of many modern diets can lead to compulsive eating, especially in older people who are not as closely monitored or pressured into getting eating disorder treatment.
When an occasional “cheat” becomes a compulsive behavior, it’s a clear sign that binge eating disorder recovery programs may be necessary. Compulsive eating signs include:
- Hidden food stashes
- Lots of empty wrappers
- Sudden weight gain (even while publicly on a diet)
- Weight fluctuations
- Lots of “alone time”
- Difficulty determining when they are full
- Planning elaborate binges
Any or all of these can be a warning sign of binge eating disorder in adults.
Why Are Older People at Risk?
Considering that people tend to gain weight as they get older, it’s no surprise that they tend to engage in dieting practices more often. And considering the connection between dieting and developing binge eating disorder, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the older population is at risk for compulsive eating and binge eating episodes. Add in the fact that older people aren’t normally considered to be “typical” eating disorder patients, and you have a recipe for untreated BED.
If you or a loved one is older and showing the signs of binge eating disorder, it’s worth looking beyond your doctor and contact an eating disorder therapist or reach out to an eating disorder facility to get a specialized diagnosis. They can help people of any age learn how to recover from binge eating disorder and return to a healthy, balanced life.