February is well known as Heart Month, a national initiative sponsored by the American Heart Association encouraging Americans to join the battle against cardiac disease.

However, February is also known for another important health issue, Eating Disorders Awareness Month, focused on raising awareness of the 20 million women and 10 million men who experience some type of eating disorder.

Though we often think of eating disorders, primarily anorexia and bulimia, as disorders belonging to the younger female generation; surprisingly, there is a large percentage of older adults and seniors who suffer from these conditions including 13 percent of women over the age of 50.

According to U.S. News & World Report, studies reveal life changes occurring in the senior years can cause emotional and psychological changes creating spikes in eating disorders.

Retirement, the loss of loved ones, depression, illnesses and/or feelings of reduced independence can also trigger these complications.

For those who are low-income, food insecurity is a risk factor for binge eating disorders, which can lead to obesity and aggravate chronic illnesses such as diabetes.

In addition, a senior’s eating patterns, diet and weight gain or loss often evolve with age, making it difficult to know if someone has developed an eating disorder.

Our bodies continually change in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond. Nutrients such as calcium, B12, vitamin D, fiber and omega 3’s are five of the key nutrients essential for any aging body.

From helping to resist infections to keeping the nervous system healthy, vitamins and minerals serve important purposes to aid in the proper functioning of the body.

The Council has long recognized that making healthy, nutritionally balanced food choices is important at any age, but even more important in the senior years.

In fact, a home delivered meal service was the first program the council provided after becoming incorporated as a nonprofit agency in 1971, to address the risk of hunger among homebound elders.

The Osceola Council on Aging now provides numerous healthy meal programs for seniors throughout Osceola County, with nutrition assistance being the most requested service our agency provides. We work with local partners like the Harmony Institute and Osceola County Grown to purchase crops for use in meal production and food distribution to disadvantaged Osceola County residents.

Next year, the Council will celebrate its 50th Anniversary, marking our inception as the leading provider of food assistance programs to the Osceola County community. The Council has evolved to provide nutritional assistance to approximately 5,000 needy households every year, serving almost 160,000 meals while distributing more than 500,000 pounds of food throughout Osceola County in 2019. The contributions of volunteers, local businesses and community partners support the Council in achieving these numbers. The programs administered by the Council include our Senior Dining Clubs, Meals on Wheels, the Emergency and Mobile Food Pantries and the annual March for Meals fundraiser to support the cost of food, preparation and delivery.

The Council also hosts a community-wide gathering for Thanksgiving and Christmas, offering companionship and a traditional holiday meal for anyone who wishes to attend. A special Christmas day meal delivery is also organized with local volunteers through our Meals on Wheels program.

The Senior Dining Club Program, for ages 60 and over, provides hot, nutritious, balanced meals at numerous locations throughout Osceola County. Meals are prepared fresh daily and contain one third of the required daily allowance (RDA) for adults while also complying with the Florida Department of Elder Affairs Guidelines. The Senior Dining Clubs provide a place for older adults to socialize while sharing nutritious lunchtime meals. There is no charge for meals, but donations are welcome.

In addition, the Council sponsors an award winning Meals on Wheels program which delivers meals throughout Osceola County.

Prepared in our kitchen and delivered by volunteers, these meals provide homebound seniors and disabled adults with one hot meal and one cold meal daily. Any senior over 60 who cannot cook a meal or does not have anyone to cook for him/ her can qualify for the Meals on Wheels program. Those who are temporarily disabled may also qualify for meal delivery while they recover.

Costs are involved for this service, but significantly reduced and affordable by most residents in need.

Meals prepared in the Council’s state of the art commercial kitchen are an efficient means of delivering sound nutrition, but for those who are at risk for eating disorders, additional support is needed. The Council provides basic nutrition education as well as counseling to support those at risk for eating disorders.

The Council also educates, counsels and prepares special ‘medical’ meals for clients with chronic illnesses who require them.

There is a commonly held misconception that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice.

It’s important to note, eating disorders are serious and sometimes fatal illnesses associated with severe disturbances in behavior, related thoughts, and emotions. Preoccupation with food, body weight and shape, or the anxiety of food insecurity may also signal an eating disorder.

For more information on the risk of eating disorders, go to www.nimh.nih. gov/health/topics/eatingdisorders/index.shtml.

For more information on meal options offered by the Council, call Wilda Belisle at 407-847-2144 or Camy Hernandez at 407-846-8532, Ext. 222. Residents needing food supplies may also call the Council at 407-846- 8532.

Volunteers are always welcome and needed; please call the numbers above for more information on volunteering for our various Nutrition Assistance programs.

To see more guest columns by Wendy, go to https://osceolagenerations.org/councils-corner/
Published Wednesday, February 5, 2020