Today is World Menopause Day and we are taking the day to reflect on eating disorders and menopause.
At Orri, part of our social impact initiative is to raise awareness of the multitude of ways people can experience having an eating disorder. In this way, we attempt to tackle the stigma and stereotypes that surround the illness.
One such stereotype is the belief that eating disorders are a “teenage issue” – which is far from the truth.
Eating disorders in menopausal women have increased in frequency over the past decade. There is no one reason for this, yet we can pinpoint themes and life experiences that increase the risk of an eating disorder in older women or exacerbate eating disorder symptoms.
Changes in our bodies
Women are more vulnerable to eating disorders during periods of reproductive hormone change, so when estrogen falls during
menopause, eating disorders rise. To quote Gennev, an online clinic for menopause:
“As estrogen and serotonin decline in our bodies around menopause, women who are sensitive to the shifts in levels become more susceptible to binge eating, in particular. This estrogen sensitivity pre-dates any eating disorder behavior, meaning women who had issues with eating disorders in the hormonal chaos of adolescence may find themselves confronting the problem again in midlife.”
Some women may develop an eating disorder whilst dealing with menopausal symptoms, whilst others may find their eating disorder symptoms resurfacing as they cope with change.
Coping with key life stages and transitions
Experiencing menopause is a key life stage for women, and key life stages – including experiencing transitions or loss – can in fact trigger eating disorders.
Menopause often coincides with children moving away, illness or looking after elderly parents. All of these experiences place a strain on the individual as they adjust to new lifestyles and routines. For those who struggle with these experiences, eating disorders develop as a means of coping in uncertain environments: they “help” us to feel a degree of certainty whilst the rest of the world would otherwise feel uncertain and unsafe.
When our world changes considerably, be it through the experience of the pandemic or our children moving away, we can experience a feeling of great loss or fracture. By focusing our attention on details such as food, weight or body shape, we can distract ourselves from the difficult and uncomfortable emotions we may be feeling deeper down.
The impact of an eating disorder can be severe
It is vitally important to reach out for support if you, or a loved one, is suffering with eating disorder symptoms. To quote Menopause Doctor:
“The effects of eating disorders are often even more severe for middle-aged women than for teenage girls. Weight loss associated with eating disorders can lead to lower levels of oestrogen in the body. In addition, if a woman is starving or purging her food, malnutrition and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol can result in enormous bone loss, at a higher rate than occurs naturally during the menopause. This will increase a women’s risk even more of developing osteoporosis.”
At Orri, we recognise that there is no “one way” to have an eating disorder, and that everyone who reaches out for support has their own, unique story and individual history. Simply reach out by giving us a call, filling out the contact form on our website, or writing us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
We’d also recommend the eating disorders charity, Beat, as an additional pathway for support, guidance and treatment: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/