Eating disorders in older women

Eating disorders (EDs) are generally associated with adolescent girls and young women. However, it is not uncommon for eating disorders to appear in older women although the type and the way in which they affect present some differences.

It is a serious condition that affects not only the way you eat. It has a significant impact on the physical and emotional health of those affected, as well as their productivity and social relationships.

Next, we know more about the characteristics of this disease in adult women, what are the most common types of eating disorders and what can be the warning signs.

How rare are eating disorders in older women?

Eating disorders in older women, mainly binge eating and subsequent purging, are more common than you might imagine.

Problems related to food such as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder are linked in the imagination to the female gender and adolescent age. But women around the age of 60 are also susceptible to them.

And the data corroborate it. Community surveys conducted in Australia in 1995 and 2005 showed that within a decade Older women who reported following strict diets, fasts or purges increased significantly.

It was also found that in this period the practice of strict diets, fasting and binge eating tripled and purgative behaviors multiplied by four. In data referring to Canadian women, it was found that between 45 and 64 years old were more likely than young women to binge on food, feeling guilty about eating or worrying about food.

Although a clear distinction is made between those women who start the disorder at these late ages and those who experience relapses or chronicity of a problem that began in adolescence, there are a number of conditioning factors in mature age that make them more vulnerable.

What factors can trigger an eating disorder?

Any stage or moment of transition in a person's life can lead to an eating behavior problem. One of them is adolescence. However, during the age range of 40 to 60 (known as second adulthood) many women also experience periods of exploration of a new identity.

It is considered a moment of more vulnerability to present disorders especially in relation to the affective, anxious and eating behavior spectrum. According to the psychologist Dr. Cabrera, some of the destabilizing factors in this age are the following:

  • Feeling of loss of position, social status, or distortion of body image in a clearly youth-oriented world.
  • Death of a loved one and / or difficult grief problems.
  • Divorce or emotional breakup.
  • Suffering from a traumatic illness.
  • Feeling of loss of control in life that you are trying to overcome with eating control.
  • Role changes in the couple or in relation to the children.

Menopause and eating disorders

Menopause is a stage in the life of women characterized by the end of the menstrual cycle in a definitive way. Although it can occur anywhere between the ages of 41 and 50, most women reach it around the age of 51.

The hormonal alteration that it entails is characterized by the possible appearance of some symptoms such as sweating, hot flashes, insomnia or dry mucous membranes. Less well known but also very present are emotional disturbances such as anxiety, fear and irritability.

It is not usual for women to talk about all these physical, psychological and emotional changes in this new stage. Unlike, It seems that society is pushing towards a remodeling of the body through diets, pills or physical exercise.

Given these characteristics, menopause becomes a vital moment of risk for the development of new ACTs or the reappearance of previous problems. And as seen in the previous section, there are very specific determinants of this age that can act as a catalyst.

Discover the best way to eat during menopause

Types of TCA

Eating behavior problems in women often have a Same pattern and behavior: caloric restriction, binge eating, and purging.

The existing scientific evidence around this issue shows a lower prevalence of bulimia and anorexia nervosa in adulthood compared to adolescence. Instead, more binge eating disorders and other unspecified types usually appear.

Anorexia nervosa

The data seem a bit contradictory according to the sources consulted. Although it is considered a rare problem in women between the ages of 40 and 60, some research has shown its existence.

Although some cases of onset of the disease are shown towards the age of 45 years or beyond, Most of the time, these are cases that started before the age of 25 and that remain chronic and lasting. over time.

Late anorexia

This is a term that doctor P. Dally introduced. With the refers to those women who develop this disease in response to a marital crisis. It appears near the age of marriage, before a pregnancy or after childbirth.

Anorexia of aging

This is a very prevalent phenomenon among the female gender and refers to a regular restriction of caloric intake in people over 65 years of age. It seems that 20% of the population suffers from this situation.

It can be derived from the change that occurs over the years, both in eating habits and in the sensation of appetite. It is usually more present in institutionalized women.

Its existence is associated with problems such as sarcopenia, osteopenia, deterioration of functional status, increased hospital admissions, decreased immune system and difficulty healing.

More eating disorders in older women: bulimia nervosa

Data shows that 2.8% of women in the United States will suffer from bulimia nervosa at some point in their life. In adulthood there is no consensus on its origin, although the menopausal period and social pressures around body image and age are critical and favorable points of its appearance.

This characterized by binge eating cycles with compensatory purging or detoxification stages to avoid weight gain. The ingestion is usually of very high amounts of food, generally very caloric and in a very short time.

Read more about 5 key differences between anorexia and bulimia

Binge eating disorder

It is the most frequent after 45 years and most of the time it is due to a chronic presentation or a relapse of a previous beginning.

This kind of problem is of particular concern because of the health consequences of. A series of metabolic alterations occur that end up affecting the cardiovascular system and increase the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, dyslipidemia and insulin resistance.

In addition, if obesity occurs, the situation can be aggravated by psychiatric symptoms. Depression and low self-esteem can appear, creating a vicious cycle that further aggravates the consequences of binge eating disorder.

Signs of an eating disorder

Exaggerated physical exercise and low caloric intake can be symptoms of eating disorders in later life.

The context and circumstances of bulimia or anorexia are different depending on the age at which the disease is suffered. However, warning signs and signals are usually generalizable.

As experts from the National Eating Disorders Association point out, some of the behaviors that may indicate a problem include the following:

  • Habitual preoccupation with food, weight loss, and diet.
  • Performing food rituals, restrictions on specific food groups, significant caloric restriction.
  • Changes in behaviors and eating habits. Skipping meals, eating alone regularly, binge eating, going to the bathroom right after eating.
  • Weightloss.
  • Use of pills and other medications with laxative, diuretic or slimming properties.
  • Excessive and / or obsessive physical exercise.
  • Anxiety and habitual mood swings.
  • Physical signs: dizziness, muscle weakness, usual feeling of cold, trouble sleeping, existence of lanugo, anemia …

Eating disorders in older women are not rare and affect their quality of life

EDs greatly affect the quality of life of people who suffer from them both in adolescence and in adulthood. In the latter, it can even worsen work productivity, the home environment and bring negative economic consequences.

Shame and secrecy are part of the problem and often prevent affected women from asking for help. In this case, the stigma of being an adult woman with a disease can also be added as a teenager.

However, today awareness of the existence of eating disorders in adult women is more widespread. There is a wider range of treatments and therapies to seek options to improve this problem.

Although on some occasions this disease can remain ingrained for years or even decades, maturity is also an advantage in dealing with it, partly because of the greater life experience.

Many women who have not been able to overcome the problem in adolescence or youth do so in their fifties or sixties. In addition, experts point out that although the disease is often underdiagnosed, there is an increase in the request for help.

The best way to accompany a person with eating disorders is to let them know that they have support and someone to talk to.