When you hear of women with eating disorders, you often think of teens or young women. However, a recent study has found that women over 50 still struggle with body image and bulimia, with bingeing and purging happening even at age 75 for some women.
The findings, released in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, reported that the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program polled 1,849 American women. Of these women, around 3.5 percent of women over 50 said they binge eat. Also, 8 percent of the women surveyed admitted to purging food, and more than 70 percent reported that they were trying to lose weight.
About one third of the women in the survey spent half of their time dieting over the past five years.
“We know very little about how women aged 50 and above feel about their bodies,” Dr. Cynthia Bulik, Director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, said, as reported by Medical Daily.
“An unfortunate assumption is that they ‘grow out of’ body dissatisfaction and eating disorders, but no one has really bothered to ask. Since most research focuses on younger women, our goal was to capture the concerns of women in this age range to inform future research and service planning.”
Although there are no studies to confirm this, Bulik believes that eating disorders may be more difficult on the body later in life because as the body ages it lacks the resilience to bounce back like in younger years.
Women in the study also revealed that they resorted to the following methods to lose weight:
- Diet pills (7.5%)
- Excessive exercise (7%)
- Diuretics (2.5%)
- Laxatives (2%)
- Vomiting (1%)
“Very little work has been conducted to understand eating pathology in older women who may have unique needs in relation to developing and maintaining a healthy body image and healthy approach to weight regulation,” Pamela Keel, PhD, professor and clinical psychologist at Florida State University in Tallahassee, told WebMD.
The average age of the women surveyed was 59.
There is concern that eating disorders are not being diagnosed with older women because clinicians aren’t looking for the signs and symptoms in this age range.
“The bottom line is that eating disorders and weight and shape concerns don’t discriminate on the basis of age,” said Bulik.
“Healthcare providers should remain alert for eating disorder symptoms and weight and shape concerns that may adversely influence women’s physical and psychological wellbeing as they mature.”
Image: © Lisa Cora Reed