Eating Disorders in Midlife


Eating disorders in midlife

Eating disorders in midlife, How does someone with an eating disorder look? A picture of a young, waiflike woman walking down a catwalk with exposed bones is probably the first image that comes to mind. Her older sisters, however, are not immune to bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating. More women at midlife and beyond than stereotypes suggest attempt risky weight-control measures.

It’s no secret that most of us have dieted at some point, with some of us doing so frequently. But Harvard specialists warn that as women age, They may experience particular pressures that increase their risk of developing eating disorders. Particularly for an aging body, the rigors of calorie restriction or binge-purge cycles might have worsening health implications.

A 2019 study published in JAMA Network Open found that by the age of 40, one in five women had experienced an eating problem. Which is twice the percentage found in women at the age of 21. According to Dr. Holly Peek, associate medical director of the Klarman Eating Disorders Center at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital. Many cases are probably a recurrence of a long-simmering trend from earlier years that may have gone unnoticed.

According to Dr. Peek

“Many women with Eating disorders in midlife have had the problem for most of their lives.” And many people begin going through significant life transformations around the age of 40 that are entirely different from those of an adolescent or young woman.

More so than officially recognized eating disorders, disordered eating that just barely toes the line between normal and harmful is also very widespread. “Up until about midlife, it could appear as yo-yo dieting, chronic dieting, or excessive exercise. When menopause-related changes to their bodies cause them to step it up. Even more, women can become caught up in this identity of being a gym rat who eats extremely clean “says Dr. Peek. “They might not even perceive it as a problem. It becomes quite challenging.”

Midlife risk factors | Eating disorders in midlife

There are numerous variations of eating disorders. But three types predominate binge eating disorder, which involves consuming enormous amounts of food after feeling full, and bulimia nervosa. Which involves bingeing followed by purging through vomiting or laxative use, and anorexia nervosa. Which is characterized by extreme food restrictions.

A November 2017 study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that the prevalence of bulimia reaches its peak at age 47. But the prevalence of anorexia declines after age 26. The most prevalent eating issue in adults, binge eating disorder, can still be a problem for women in their 70s.

What has sustained such a pathological obsession with food and weight over the years? Women in their midlife and later years may be attempting to maintain their competitiveness in the workplace. Where being slender may be linked with youth, or they may be making a comeback on the dating scene following divorce or widowhood. The shock of an empty nest may also inspire efforts to redefine one’s body.


According to Dr. Bettina Bentley

Dr. Bettina Bentley, a general care physician at Harvard University Health Services, claims that the significance of body image “seems to be a fundamental component that causes women either relapse to or initiate an eating disorder.” Many women who are aging are additionally troubled by the fact that they have little control over how their bodies are changing.

Indeed, changes in estrogen brought on by the menopause transition can increase the likelihood of eating disorders. The jury is still out on why estrogen may contribute to the emergence of eating disorders at either end of the age span, according to Dr. Peek. Women going through menopause are more prone to put on weight, and you could feel like your body is against them at that time.

How can you spot an eating disorder?

A person may have an eating disorder if they have had extreme weight reduction. But how else could you recognize this situation in others or in yourself? Search for

rapid weight changes, whether they be an upward or downward obsession with body size, form, and calories reluctance to eat specific foods or dietary groups (such as sugar or carbohydrates)
excessive exercise, meal skipping, or meal quantities at regular meals that are too little
Food rituals, such as chewing food excessively or preventing different items on a plate from touching, might be indicators of purging behaviors. Such as frequent toilet visits, vomiting sounds or odors, or laxative wrappers, which accumulate quickly.

According to Dr. Holly Peek, associate medical director of the Klarman Eating Disorders Center at McLean Hospital. “Anytime these ideas and actions are taking over your life, it’s an indication to get help.”

An Array of health effects

Eating disorders can have a negative impact on the body even when they are hidden from others. According to Margaret Schrier, a registered dietitian, and director of nutrition at Harvard University Health Services. Women with eating disorders are frequently at least inadequate in a few nutrients, including iron, vitamin B12, calcium, and vitamin D. Supplements are generally well accepted by patients and can help with inadequacies, according to Schrier. Considering that they might not be as well absorbed on an empty stomach, she advises taking them with food.

Malnutrition, purging, and extreme weight loss can also result in these issues:

Loss of bone: According to Dr. Bentley, the risk of bone fracture is seven times greater in anorexics than in the general population. Bone density testing isn’t often advised for women over 50. But she orders it for both those who have fractured bones and those she suspects may have eating disorders.

Heart issues: An irregular heartbeat might result from low electrolyte levels brought on by disordered eating. The likelihood of women taking drugs for chronic diseases increases as they approach middle age. Your body isn’t as resilient as it was when you were 16, so it’s more like a recipe for a medical emergency, according to Dr. Peek.


Lung diseases: Over time, chest muscles deteriorate, particularly in those who force themselves to vomit on a regular basis. Pneumonia risk is increased by this.

Digestive disorders: It’s possible to overlook symptoms like reflux, bloating, nausea, vomiting, and constipation. Or diarrhea as being due to aging when in reality they could be tied to an eating disorder.

Diabetes: According to Dr. Bentley, those with binge eating disorders have far higher incidences of diabetes, which is probably caused by recurrent blood sugar rises following bingeing.

Skin deterioration: Long-term anorexics frequently have poor wound healing and severe face wrinkling, according to Dr. Bentley. This is definitely indicative of general nutritional deficiency.


Only 27% of people with eating disorders seek professional assistance. Despite the fact that they cause more fatalities than any other psychiatric illness. Patients can be guided toward greater physical and emotional wellness with the aid of a team of medical experts that includes a dietitian and a therapist. Don’t be afraid to speak openly with your doctor if you think you may have an eating disorder. She is qualified to diagnose and treat eating disorders objectively, just like she would any other medical issue.

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