Eating disorders are usually associated with teenagers, but they are also common among older Americans. Research has shown that in women ages 50 and over, 3.5% report binge eating, and nearly 8% report purging (self-induced vomiting). That overeating and purging cycle is known as bulimia nervosa, which stems from a psychological issue. Another eating disorder is anorexia nervosa, which occurs when people are convinced they are overweight and starve themselves to the point of putting their lives at risk. For advice, check out a new book from Harvard Health Publishing, Almost Anorexic, by Dr. Jennifer Thomas and Jenni Schaefer. (For ordering information, visit http://www.health.harvard.edu/books/almost-anorexic.)
Common among the very elderly is a condition called simply anorexia. Unlike anorexia nervosa, it isn't triggered by a misperception of being overweight. "It often happens near the end of life. People stop eating, lose weight, and become weaker and less socially engaged. As a consequence, they are more susceptible to sickness. It often begins a downhill course toward more dependency and death," explains geriatrician Dr. Suzanne Salamon, an instructor at Harvard Medical School.