Midlife eating disorders are on the rise
: KLOe eatLnJ GLsoUGeUs such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating usually affect young women, recent statistics suggest that increasing numbers of middle- aged women are struggling with these disorders as well.
Experts say that these problems are often underreported in this age group because older adults may be even more ashamed than younger women to admit to these issues, viewing eating disorders as an adolescent disease. In addition, physicians treating older women are not typically looking for symptoms of these disorders in the same way that they might be with younger patients.
It is rare that an eating disorder will show up suddenly in midlife for the first time, but more typically, a long- standing problem with eating can become reactivated during this time period.
: KLOe soPe oOGeU woPen who become symptom- atic may have been treated during adolescence and young adulthood for clinically significant eating problems, others may have just always been thin and careful about what they ate for years.
There are a variety of triggers specific to middle age that may set in motion a more full- blown eating disorder in certain vulnerable women. Midlifers tend to be dealing with a range of losses including children going off to college, medical issues, caring for an ailing parent and divorce.
In addition, weight gain and bodily changes related to aging can play a role as well. For instance, as menopause unfolds, metabolism begins to slow down and the production of estrogen decreases. This can lead to a shift in the distribution of weight and a “thicker middle,” even for women who eat very healthy foods and exercise regularly.
The normal 8- to 10- pound weight gain which occurs for many, as they pass through menopause, can be triggering for women with predispositions toward disordered eating. Aging in a society that values youth, thinness and perfection can take its toll on certain baby boomers who become increasingly preoccupied and distracted by their changing weight and shape.
Eating disorders, at any age, can lead to serious physical consequences but are especially hard on a woman’s body over a long period of time. They can compound the risks of cardiac problems and osteoporosis, which are already concerns for postmenopausal women.
As women age, their bodies are less resilient, and the additional stress of an eating disorder can elevate the chances of many other complications as well.
The treatment for adult women with eating disorders should include individual psychotherapy, nutritional counseling and medical monitoring.
There are also specialized groups and more intensive treatment proJUaPs, suFK as at tKe 5enIUew CenteU, sSeFLILFaOOy designed for middle- aged women. In addition, the 1atLonaO EatLnJ DLsoUGeUs Association is an excellent resource for information on this topic.
Dr. Caryn Richfield is a clinical psychologist practicing in Plymouth Meeting. She can be reached at 610- 238- 4450 or at drcrichfield@ aol. com.
Coping Dr. Caryn Richfield