Eating disorders (EDs) are usually connected with adolescent girls and young women. But, it is not unusual for eating disorders to appear in older women. Although nature and how they affect display some differences.
It is a severe condition that affects not only the way you eat. It has a vital impact on the physical and emotional health of those concerned, as well as their productivity and social relationships.
Next, we discover more about the features of this disease in older women, what are the most popular kinds of eating disorders, and what can be the warning symptoms.
How rare are eating disorders in older women?
Food-related obstacles such as bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorder imaginary associated with the female gender and adolescent age. However, women around the age of 60 are also susceptible to them.
And the data prove it. Community surveys conducted in Australia in 1995 and 2005 revealed that older women who reported following fasting, strict diets or preventing increased significantly within a decade.
It was also noted that in this period the practice of binge eating, fasting, and strict diets tripled and aperient behaviors multiplied by four. In data relating to Canadian women, it was discovered that between the ages of 45 and 64, they were more likely than young women to binge on food, feel guilty about eating, or worry about food.
Although a clear difference is made between those women who start the disorder at these late ages and those who suffer relapses or chronicity of a problem that began in adolescence, several conditioning factors in mature age make them more vulnerable.
What factors can trigger an eating disorder?
Any stage or moment of transition in a person’s life can drive to an eating behavior problem. One of them is adolescence. But, during the ages 40 to 60 (known as second adulthood), many women also experience periods of exploration of a new identity.
We can consider it as a moment of more vulnerability to present disorders, particularly about the effective, enthusiastic, and eating behavior spectrum. According to the psychologist, some of the destabilizing circumstances at this age are the following:
- Feeling of social status, loss of position, or distortion of body image in a precisely youth-oriented world.
- Divorce or emotional breakup.
- Death of a loved one and/or difficult grief problems.
- Suffering from a traumatic illness.
- Role changes in the couple or relation to the children.
- Feeling of loss of control in a life that you are trying to overcome with eating control.
Menopause and eating disorders
Menopause is a stage in the life of women identified by the end of the menstrual cycle forever. Although it can happen anywhere between the ages of 41 and 50, most women reach it around 51.
The hormonal change that it causes is defined by the possible appearance of some symptoms such as hot flashes, sweating, insomnia, or dry mucous membranes. Less well recognized but also very present are emotional disturbances such as fear, anxiety, and irritability.
It is not normal for women to discuss all these psychological, physical, and emotional changes in this new stage. On the opposite, it seems that society is pushing towards a restoration of the body through pills, diets, or physical exercise.
Given these features, menopause becomes a vital hazard moment for the development of new eating disorders or the reappearance of previous problems. And as discussed in the previous section, there are very particular determinants of this age that can act as a catalyst.
Types of TCA
Problems associated with eating behavior in women tend to have the same behavior and pattern: caloric restriction, bingeing, and purging.
The present scientific evidence around this topic reveals a lower predominance of bulimia and anorexia nervosa in adulthood compared to teens. Instead, more binge eating disorders and other unspecified kinds normally appear.
The data seem a bit different according to the experts consulted. Although it is a rare problem in women between the ages of 40 and 60, some study has shown its existence.
Although some cases of the onset of the condition are displayed around the age of 45 or beyond, most of the time these are cases that started before the age of 25 and that remain chronic and lasting over time.
This is a phrase that doctor P. Dally introduced. With him, he refers to those women who contract this disease in response to a marital crisis. It appears near the age of marriage, before pregnancy, or after delivery.
Anorexia of aging
This is a very common phenomenon among the female gender and refers to a regular limitation of caloric intake in people over 65 years of age. It seems that 20% of the population experiences this situation.
You can obtain it from the change that happens over the years. Both in eating habits and the sensation of appetite. It is normally more present in institutionalized women.
Linked with problems such as osteopenia, sarcopenia, deterioration in functional status, decreased immune system, increased hospital admissions, and difficulties in healing.
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Further eating disorders in older women: bulimia nervosa
Data shows that 2.8% of women in the United States will experience bulimia nervosa at some point in their life. In adulthood, there is no agreement on its origin, although the menopausal period and social pressures around body image and age are critical and positive points of its appearance.
You can define it by compulsive eating cycles with compensatory purging or detoxification stages to limit weight gain. The ingestion is normally of very high amounts of food, generally very caloric, and in a very short time.
Binge eating disorder
It is the most popular after 45 years of age and most of the time it is due to a chronic presentation or a relapse from a previous beginning.
This kind of problem is of specific concern because of the health outcomes that it entails. A series of metabolic modifications produced that end up affecting the cardiovascular system and raise the risk of arterial hypertension, obesity, dyslipidemia, and insulin resistance.
Besides, if obesity happens, the situation can be complicated by psychiatric symptoms. Depression and low self-esteem can develop, creating a vicious cycle that further increases the importance of binge eating disorder, if possible.
Signs of an eating disorder in older women
The context and conditions of bulimia or anorexia are varied depending on the age at which the disease is suffered. But, the symptoms and warning signs are frequently generalizable.
According to the experts, some of the behaviors that may intimate a problem include the following:
- Constant preoccupation with food, Weight loss, and diet.
- Performing food rituals, limitations on specific food groups, significant caloric restriction.
- Changes in behaviors and eating habits. Skipping meals, binge eating, eating alone regularly, going to the bathroom right after eating.
- Weight loss.
- Excessive and/or obsessive physical exercise.
- Use of pills and other medications with a diuretic, laxative, or slimming properties.
- Anxiety and habitual mood swings.
- Physical signs: the usual feeling of cold, dizziness, muscle weakness, trouble sleeping, the existence of lanugo, anemia …
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Eating disorders in older women are not uncommon and influence their quality of life
EDs considerably affect the quality of life of people who experience them both in adolescence and adulthood. In the latter, it can even worsen labor productivity, the home environment, and bring negative economic outcomes.
Shame and isolation are part of the problem and often stop affected women from asking for help.
But, today perception of the existence of eating disorders in adult women is more widespread. There is a wider range of therapies and treatments to seek opportunities to improve this problem.
Although in some circumstances this disease can remain inherent for years or even decades. Maturity is also an edge to deal with it, in part due to the more elevated experience of life.
Several women who are not able to overcome the problem in youth do so in their fifties or sixties. Besides, specialists point out that although the disease is normally underdiagnosed, there is an increase in the request for help.
The best way to accompany a person with eating disorders is to let them understand that they have the assistance and a person to talk to.