Long associated with teens, especially girls, and young adults, eating disorders are a serious health concern. Many people are surprised to learn that older adults have eating disorders, too. Although treatable, the secrecy that surrounds those suffering from it makes it difficult for doctors and mental health professionals to spot.
An article in the latest issue of AARP magazine cites a study from 2012 that found a higher-than-expected percentage of women over 50 with eating disorders. The research was conducted at the Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The findings were 13 percent of women 50 or older have symptoms of eating disorders, 60 percent of the participants worry about their weight and shape, and 70 percent are actively trying to lose weight.
The two primary eating disorders are bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa. Symptoms of bulimia are bingeing on large amounts of food and then purging by forcing vomiting, using laxatives or exercising constantly. Anorexia is characterized by starving when appearing underweight, often accompanied by a distorted body image.
While some people may go on drastic diets or try the latest exercise fad, eating disorders are serious mental illnesses. The article’s author explores the social effects on people with eating disorders resulting from isolating themselves to hide their disease. The physical effects, particularly from anorexia can drastically harm the body and up to 20 percent of sufferers die.
Researchers suggest that eating disorders in older women may be connected to post-menopausal physical and mental changes. One a positive note, the article reports older women have more insight and life perspective on which to rely when treating an eating disorder.
Signs of Eating Disorders
If you have any of the following, you may want to consult with your doctor:
- Forcing vomiting when you feel very full
- A feeling of loss of control over the amount you eat
- A weight loss of more than 14 pounds within three months
- You see yourself as fat and others say you’re thin
- Thoughts of food take over your life