There are studies that confirm this fact. A 2012 study
It is estimated that 13% of US women over the age of 50 have symptoms of an eating disorder, slightly more than the percentage diagnosed with breast cancer.
). Studies also show that while anorexia rates peak around age 26, bulimia rates don’t peak until around age 47, and BED rates don’t peak until women reach their 70s.
EDs have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, yet studies show that only 27% of sufferers seek professional help.
Another indication of ED that affects middle-aged women is atypical anorexia, in which women limit their food intake for days. This type of ED can dramatically slow down the body’s metabolic rate, which occurs to protect and protect the body and ultimately protect it from starvation.
Causes of Midlife Eating Disorders
Older women face different degrees of stress. It may be related to work or family problems. Another factor contributing to EDs in women may be their ever-changing hormones and the physical changes that come with the natural progression of aging. Society also plays a large role in the development of EDs, as there is a constant emphasis on youth and vitality over the representation of thinness and physical beauty.
COVID-19 has caused a resurgence of eating disorders
A recent survey also highlights the role the pandemic is playing in older women’s eating disorders. Study participants reported a marked increase in anxiety and reported more concern about the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health than their physical health. Individuals with a past history of eating disorders have reported concerns about relapse in relation to cases of COVID-19. All hope is not lost, as respondents report positive effects such as greater connection with family, more time for self-care, and motivation to recover (3).✔ ✔Reliable Source
Early impact of COVID-19 on individuals with eating disorders: a survey of ~1000 individuals in the US and the Netherlands
Go to source
Relapse of Eating Disorders in Old Age
Data show that only about 5% to 10% of women who develop an eating problem are first affected as adults, meaning older women who suffer from ED have had a potential health problem for years or even decades.
Studies show that most women with ED were treated during adolescence, exhibited mild ED symptoms that were not previously medically treated, or had ED problems re-emerge after treatment in later adulthood. Many older women suffer from ED symptoms for years, suffer from chronic illness and low body weight; off and yo-yo dieting; compulsive eating, calorie counting, and/or compulsive exercise behaviors; and nuanced, subtle intermediate ED behaviors that health care providers decide not to communicate.
There are some eye-opening statistics regarding the risks of ED as it pertains to older women. On average, a woman is most dissatisfied with her body at the age of 54. 79% of women over 50 may feel that body weight/shape plays a moderate or extreme role in self-perception (4✔ ✔Reliable Source
Eating disorder symptoms and weight and shape concerns in a large Internet-based sample of women aged 50 and older: Results from the Gender and Body Image (GABI) study
Go to source).
Factors Affecting Eating Disorders in Older Women
- In the workplace, the effects of aging are on full display with increased strength and vision. Looking young and lean may seem critical to being competitive at work
- As their parents age, they may have to move into adult children’s or nursing homes
- The aging body undergoes metabolic changes, skin changes, and changes in fat distribution within a society that idealizes youth and thinness.
- Society’s expectation that older women take care of others before taking care of themselves
- The empty nest (when the kids leave home) and the struggle to redefine identity; When no longer in a clearly defined role of “mother,” women may turn to health or appearance to create a new sense of identity and purpose.
- The death and grief of a parent, the struggle to manage feelings of shock and new responsibilities
- Unexpected or chronic illnesses and changes in the body that can disrupt self and perceived body image
- Divorce or separation from partners can affect mental health and create feelings of loneliness
Eating disorders have a serious impact on overall health
Experts note that lifelong ED problems, especially if left untreated, can seriously affect both physical and mental health, as well as longevity and quality of life.
ED affects the entire body from head to toe. Lack of proper nutrition lowers blood pressure, sometimes to dangerous levels, and estrogen, which can lead to bone loss, thus increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
Because the brain consumes up to a fifth of the body’s calories, simple thought processes and concentration can suffer. Purging can lower the body’s electrolytes, which can lead to cardiac arrhythmias and even heart failure.
Older women with eating disorders may even suffer from muscle wasting that slows metabolism, digestive problems such as gastroesophageal reflux disease and irritable bowel syndrome, and heart arrhythmias.
If left untreated, it can lead to malnutrition, diabetes, osteoporosis, kidney problems, gastrointestinal problems and heart disease.
ED can also be fatal. A report found between 2008 and 2009 that people over 45 years of age accounted for 25% of total ED hospitalizations (5✔ ✔Reliable Source
Statistical Brief #120 Update on Hospitalizations for Eating Disorders, 1999-2009
Go to source).
How do I know if I have an eating disorder?
EDs can be overlooked in older female populations because the most obvious symptom of weight loss can indicate several health problems. In addition to weight loss, women may be embarrassed to discuss potential ED problems with their health care providers, so they keep their concerns quiet.
Other well-known symptoms of ED include: dramatic weight fluctuations, constant dieting, weight fixation, and problems eating in front of others. It can also lead to mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. These problems can magnify each other and contribute to isolation, which is another contributing factor to ED suffering.
How can I help myself?
Many middle-aged and older women may feel unsure about seeking help because of the stigma associated with EDs later in life. ED recovery is always possible, especially in a treatment program that addresses the specific needs and issues of older women.
Treatment usually includes:
- Nutrition education
- Inpatient or outpatient treatment facility
- Couples therapy with their significant others educates ED about the recovery process and teaches effective communication skills so they can be on the same page about goals and acceptance.
In therapy, women study the aging process, such as the metabolic changes that occur in women throughout their lives. Therapy also helps older women learn to identify the source of their ED and focus on personal inner growth, including prioritizing self-care and identifying positive personal accomplishments.
Finally, therapy for ED in older women seeks to develop in women who suffer from a deep sense of acceptance of the various changes that occur in their bodies throughout their lives.
- Body image, aging, and identity in women over 50: The Gender and Body Image (GABI) Study – (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5215963/)
- Age Effects on Eating Disorders, Primary Risk Factors, and Prevention Intervention Effects – (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5745064/)
- Early impact of COVID-19 on individuals with eating disorders: a survey of ~1000 individuals in the US and the Netherlands – (https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.28.20116301v2)
- Eating disorder symptoms and weight and shape concerns in a large Internet-based sample of women aged 50 and older: Results from the Gender and Body Image (GABI) study – (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/eat.22030)
- Statistical Brief #120 Update on Hospitalizations for Eating Disorders, 1999-2009 – (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK65135/)