For some, aging may bring on — or rekindle — an eating disorder.
Most people who develop eating disorders — an estimated 90% — are
female. Typically associated with adolescents and young women,
eating disorders also affect middle-aged or elderly women —
although, until fairly recently, not much was known about
prevalence in this older age group.
Secrecy and shame are part of the disorder, and women may not
seek help. This is particularly true if they fear being forced to
gain unwanted weight or stigmatized as an older woman with a
Despite underdiagnosis of eating disorders in older people,
clinicians at treatment centers specializing in such issues
report that they've seen an upswing in requests for help from
older women. Some of these women have struggled with disordered
eating for decades, while for others the problem is new. The
limited amount of research on this topic suggests that such
anecdotal reports may reflect a trend.
In community surveys conducted in 1995 and again in 2005, for
example, Australian researchers found that while younger women
reported eating disorder behaviors more often than older women
did, the rate of these disorders in older women increased
dramatically between the two surveys, while it remained stable
for young women. In women ages 65 and over, strict dieting,
fasting, and binge eating all tripled, while purging quadrupled.
In the same surveys, rates of strict dieting or fasting and
purging also increased dramatically in women ages 45 to 64. A
study of Canadian women surveyed in the general population
likewise found that women ages 45 to 64 were more likely to binge
on food, feel guilty about eating, and be preoccupied with food
compared with younger women.
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