Eating disorders in older women can go unnoticed because, in many cases, anorexia won’t manifest in emaciation, and bulimics can stay at a “healthy” weight or even be overweight. Another reason is that over a certain age, loss of menses no longer applies, which with younger women can be an indicator of an eating disorder.
Menopause: Time of Increased Risk for Eating Disorders
The physiological and psychological changes that occur right before and during menopause mimic changes that happen during puberty. An Australian medical university conducted a large study and found that when a woman is perimenopausal, the risk of developing an eating disorder is at its most heightened state (“The Transition to Menopause: Time of Increased Risk for Eating Disorders. The Transition to Menopause: Time of Increased Risk for Eating Disorders. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.).
During this period of life, a woman is at the peak of hormonal and body composition changes as well as social pressures to be youthful. This transition to menopause brings a much greater risk of negative body image. Women may seek to manage their bodies with the latest diet pill or exercise craze, which not surprisingly, can result in the development of an eating disorder.
Battling An Eating Disorder For The First Time
In some cases, women with mid-life eating disorders have struggled with it throughout their lives and relapse after a recovery period. But, in a lot of instances, women over 50 develop disordered eating habits for the first time.
Entering different chapters in life can cause weight fluctuations. Things like health issues involved with getting older, divorce, parents aging, empty nest syndrome or even older children moving back home can all have an impact on one’s sense of self. Diet control is an easy way for some women to deal with negative and/or overwhelming feelings regarding life changes. There is also a societal attitude these days that “50 is the new 30.” More and more women feel like it isn’t okay or enough to age naturally.
Increased Risks From Eating Disorders In Older Women
As bodies become less resilient the older they get, serious health implications are exacerbated in women with mid-life eating disorders. These include greater risk of:
- Hormonal imbalances
- Damage to teeth
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- Kidney failure
- Gastrointestinal problems
However, maturity can bring advantages to battling an eating disorder. Older patients can benefit by having more life experiences and insights to draw on and by being more aware of the physical and psychological damages caused by an eating disorder before it’s too late. Even those who have tried to control their disordered eating in the past can often succeed later in life.
We Can Help
The good news is that the growing awareness of eating disorders in older women has led to more treatment options. The Meadows Ranch has treated eating disorders in women and young girls for more than 20 years. We know recovery from an eating disorder is possible. Based on feedback from patients, families and professionals, the vast majority of our patients remain committed to a life of health, balance and purpose.
For additional information about the treatment of eating disorders, please call to speak to an intake coordinator.