Eating Disorders Don't Just Affect Young Girls

image Eating disorders are mental health problems that mainly affect young girls and women between the ages of 12 and 25. But many people don't realize that they can also affect older women.

Types of Eating Disorders

Older women can have the same eating disorders as younger women. It is just not as common. They may have:

  • Anorexia nervosa —an obsession with losing more weight than needed
  • Bulimia nervosa —Eating large amounts of food and then vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics, or over-exercising
  • Binge eating disorder—Eating large amounts of food without vomiting, which leads to weight gain

Why It May Happen

A number of things may be leading older women to have these problems. Some may be:

  • Relapse from a past eating disorder
  • Age-related stress, such as peer and societal pressure to be thin and young
  • Engaging in healthy behaviors and then going to extremes by working out several hours each day
  • Hormonal changes due to menopause

The Overall Impact

Eating disorders can make it hard to function at home and at work. It can also affect your relationships with others.

Over time, these problems can also harm the body and lead to:

  • Cardiovascular problems, such as heart failure and heart rhythm problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems, such as blocked intestines, problems passing stool, and esophageal or stomach rupture
  • Neurological issues, such as problems with focus, fainting, and numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
  • Hormonal problems, such as irregular or absent periods, bone loss, and fractures

Seeking Help

Many women may not realize or admit that they have a problem. It may take a long time for them to get help. Once they do seek help, there may be times where they improve and then times when they fall into unhealthy habits, such as during times of stress. Treatment will involve healthy habits, medicines, and mental health therapy.

If you or a loved one are struggling with an eating disorder, seek help from a qualified counselor, doctor, or eating disorder clinic.

RESOURCES:

National Eating Disorders Association
http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

National Institute of Mental Health
http://www.nimh.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

National Eating Disorder Information Centre
http://www.nedic.ca

Women's Health Matters
http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca

REFERENCES:

Ackard DM, Richter S. Eating disorder treatment among women forty and older: Increases in prevalence over time and comparisons to young adult patients. J Psychosom Res. 2013;74(2):175-178.

Anorexia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/anorexia-nervosa. Accessed November 3, 2021.

Eating disorders and women over 50. AARP website. Available at: https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-08-2013/midlife-eating-disorders.html. Accessed November 3, 2021.

Bulimia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/bulimia-nervosa. Accessed November 3, 2021.

Eating disorder statistics. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders website. Available at: https://anad.org/eating-disorders-statistics. Accessed November 3, 2021.

Health consequences. NEDA website. Available at: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/health-consequences. Accessed November 3, 2021.

Scholtz S, Hill LS, et al. Eating disorders in older women: Does late onset anorexia nervosa exist? Int J Eat Disord. 2010;43(5):393-397.

Last reviewed November 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board  Last Updated: 11/3/2021