Those with eating disorders are stereotypically classified as adolescent girls or young women dealing with the social pressures of school and the unrealistic beauty standards mainstream media projects. (via Women’s Health Magazine). Shockingly, an emerging number of women are being diagnosed with eating disorders who are 30 and older.
Alarming increase: The New York Times says that, “In the past 10 years they [doctors] are treating an increasing number of women over 30 who are starving themselves, abusing laxatives, exercising to dangerous extremes and engaging in all of the self-destructive activities that had, for so long, been considered teenage behaviors.”
In the last few years, eating disorder clinics like the world-renowned Refrew Center, have even created special programs geared towards those who are over 30.
Seeking help: Recovery for women with eating disorders who are over 30 is not an easy process. There is often years of psychological turmoil that must be unraveled. Creating a normal relationship with food after years of unhealthy habits can seem almost impossible. Many of these women are successful in their careers and as a mother; however, making time to address their problems is difficult and often feels unnecessary to them.
However, as G. Terence Wilson, a psychology professor at Rutgers University elegantly put it, “Being intelligent and successful doesn’t immunize against eating disorders.” These women often have an extra motivation to seek help that younger women do not; who is, to be a good example for their family, and especially for their daughters.
Why is this happening?
Midlife crisis: As with younger women, midlife can be a time of great change and uncertainty. Many women are dealing with the pressure of their career, divorce, and children. An eating disorder can arise from the uncertainty of their lives. Controlling their food and body becomes a form of controlling their lives when everything else is so unpredictable.
Celebrity Worship: Many 30+ women become infatuated with celebrities that seem to never age. Thanks to airbrushing and teams of makeup and hair professionals, celebrities like Madonna and Christie Brinkley appear to only be growing younger, which is unrealistic for the average women to achieve. (via Daily Mail)
With eating disorders, comes tragic consequences for the body and soul. According to AARP, anorexia is the deadliest psychiatric disorder. Heart and gastrointestinal issues, bone and teeth damage, and severe depression and isolation, have a bigger effect on women who are older. In fact, it is estimated that symptoms of an eating disorder hit even harder as people get older and their bodies become less resilient to the effects.
Cynthia Bulik, PhD, a leader in mid-life eating disorders, identifies three different types of women who get eating disorders. The first are women who developed an eating disorder in adolescents, recovered, and then relapsed later in life. The second are women who never recovered from adolescence. The third are women who developed an eating disorder late in life. The “common thread” between these three types of women, she says, is the fact that doctors often overlook their symptoms. Women are often praised for losing weight and looking skinny versus the transformation serving as a possible red flag. (via Oprah)
It’s important to raise awareness of this growing disorder. If you or someone you know may be suffering from an eating disorder, please encourage them to seek help. The ray of hope, as Professor Wilson stated, is that older women are more likely to go to counseling than younger women. Please visit the National Eating Disorder Association’s website for help or further information.