Most of us can feel pretty good about February. We’ve turned the corner on post-holiday blues and have a mere 28 days to get through till we arrive at a month when we can get excited about spring. And there’s plenty to keep us busy in February. February brings chocolate, hearts, presidents, poetry, and black history. Lots to learn, lots to be hopeful for. But February is also a time when we observe eating disorder awareness week.
Thankfully, our thinking on eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia has evolved from assuming it’s exclusively a problem for teenagers and women who read too many fashion magazines. We know better now, and our treatment of eating disorders has become more comprehensive and nuanced.
Even so, there’s a lot we still don’t know about eating disorders and a lot we don’t know about those who suffer from them. In honor of those people, we’d like to take a look at overlooked populations who don’t necessarily fit the “type” for eating disorders.
Sure, you’d think that if you’re running x miles a day or constantly lifting weights in the gym, your only problem as an athlete would be making sure you are eating enough healthy choices to fuel your body. Unfortunately, however, this is far from true. Studies show that 33% of female athletes are at high risk for anorexia. Male athletes also suffer from eating disorders: boys’ wresting is particularly problematic. But the most shocking stats concern figure skating and gymnastics where a reported 62% of participants are affected by eating disorders.
Even when they aren’t wrestlers or jockeys or participate in a sport where weigh-ins are the norm, men suffer from eating disorders. In fact, body dissatisfaction rates among men are rapidly approaching those in women. So the next time you see an overweight, bumbling dad on your favorite sitcom with his attractive, in-shape wife, know that art is not imitating life. Increasing numbers of men are struggling with body issues and it’s important not to overlook this group.
Heartbreakingly, there is a rise of eating disorders among the elderly, and it’s the hardest occurrence of eating disorders to detect. Since there are so many contributing factors to weight loss in the elderly, an eating disorder can go unnoticed. The elderly are, of course, prone to many diseases and conditions that cause weight loss: stomach issues increase, dentures don’t fit right, things don’t taste the same as they used to, general declining health. Sadly, elderly populations don’t always get the most attentive care. If a facility isn’t on the lookout for eating disorders or a family isn’t paying close attention to their loved ones, eating disorders can take hold.
This February, enjoy the longer days and the brighter skies, but while you do, keep all those who suffer from eating disorders in your thoughts and join us in supporting those who work for solutions to these terrible diseases.