Though there is nothing one likes to think about eating disorders, perhaps we all take some comfort in believing that, if we are grown adults, and everyone around us are also adults, that we are far away from the issue—that anyone who has had an eating disorder, has since recovered. Many of us associate eating disorders with women, and specifically with young women (middle school through college age). But research has found that eating disorders affect people of all genders, ethnicities, and ages. In fact, 13 percent of women over the age of 50 suffer from some disordered eating behavior. Over the age of 50. Those could be mothers. Those could be grandmothers. Those could be bosses and CEOs. Even the adults whom you believe have their life completely together could suffer from disordered eating. And, it’s much easier for adults to hide it since, at a certain age, most people just consider it not their business to pry into the lifestyle choices of another adult. Here are ways adults hide eating disorders in plain sight.
Being rigid about workout schedules
Everyone can respect dedication to fitness, which is something those with eating disorders may take cover under when being extremely rigid about workout times. That means never, ever cancelling a workout for anything (even if it means getting up at 4am to exercise before a flight) and never cutting a workout short for anything (like leaving the treadmill 12 minutes before end time due to a family emergency).
Always prepping for a marathon
Constantly preparing for some major physical event like a marathon or triathlon is one way adults can cover up an eating disorder. These preparations often require intense exercise regiments and very strict diets.
Trying new diet challenges with friends
Sometimes adults with eating disorders socialize their disorder. They do this by always wanting to “try” some new fad diet, and making it “fun” by bringing others on board. So one month they’re trying the Whole 30 diet with a group of friends, and the next month they’re cutting all sugar with another group of friends. To the friends, it’s just a one-time, fun challenge, but to the affected individual, it’s a way to limit caloric intake without anyone really noticing—everyone else is doing it.
Making all socializing active
If you have a friend whom you notice only wants to do something active when you get together—like go for a jog, do the rock climbing wall at the gym, go to a fitness class, or go for a power walk—she may suffer from an eating disorder. It’s normal to do these things sometimes with friends, but if your friend becomes very nervous at the idea of just sitting down for a meal and pushes to do something active, she may suffer from an eating disorder.
Wearing an activity tracker
Activity trackers are useful and interesting, but they are also enabling devices for those with eating disorders. While many people wear them claiming they’re just curious about their statistics, you may notice some adults rigorously keeping an eye on the calorie counter on their device—even checking it before each bite of food.
Claiming food sensitivities
It’s wonderful that our society has become more aware of the weaknesses in the modern diet, and just how many of our most common ingredients can be harmful on many individuals. However, it’s also provided another way for adults with eating disorders to mask their condition, by simply claiming they “can’t” eat what is being served due to sensitivities that may or may not be real.
Eating at home due to “budgeting”
I know one friend who has opened up to me about her eating disorder. She hasn’t told others, but when we dine out with friends, she just has a side salad, claiming she is on a budget. I do, however, know that she is not really on that tight of a budget.
Avoiding all things processed
It’s certainly good to limit processed foods like deli meats and packaged goods but, sadly, we do live in a world where eating absolutely no processed foods would mean to practically starve. That is why some individuals with eating disorders have a strict no-processed-foods rule, which makes it very difficult for them to consume enough calories—especially away from home.
Becoming a trainer/instructor
This is an interesting psychological element to the eating disorder: in an attempt to normalize their behavior, some individuals with eating disorders actually become masters of it. What I mean is, they may become personal trainers, nutritionists, or yoga instructors. This allows them to follow their rules rigidly while, not only not being suspected of a disorder, but actually being admired for their behavior.
Being extremely portion-conscious
Today, there are certain plates you can buy that actually sense how much food you place on them, and alert you when your portions are too large. They’re certainly useful for those on a weight loss journey, but are also—like the fitness trackers—enabling devices for those with eating disorders.
Using an analytical scale
There are some truly advanced scales now that can tell you things like your body mass index to your water weight to your muscle mass. These are also devices that those with eating disorders may use to supplement their other obsessive behaviors.
Making fitness a couples activity
I sadly have a few adult friends with eating disorder tendencies, and I’ve noticed that they always have themselves and their romantic partners on some new fitness mission. Whether it’s running five miles every day or ditching the car and walking everywhere, they socialize and normalize their behavior by making it something they’re doing with their partner.
Or, being a nutritionist to a partner
I’ve also seen adults with eating disorders act as the pseudo nutritionist to their slightly overweight partners, and in an act of “solidarity” eating the same way their partner does. But, their partner is the only one really needing to lose weight.
Fixating on the gym/food during travel
Traveling can be stressful for adults with eating disorders, and if you suspect a loved one or friend has one, you may notice certain habits around travel. She may be adamant that the hotel has a gym, as well as a refrigerator for her to store her own foods. She may require everyone to adjust their plans and go out of their budget to accommodate her need for this type of hotel.
Claiming it’s for the immune system, or something else
While it is true that eating a certain way may boost the immune system or be good for the skin, no diet is “good” if it leads to extreme calorie restriction. Though some adults with eating disorders will state that they eat the way they do to boost their health.