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Empty Plates for “Empty Nesters”
Eating Disorders Among Older Women
Characteristics of Eating Disorders
- Anorexia nervosa is an illness that leads persons to deprive themselves of food so that they experience a state of starvation and dramatic weight loss.
- People with bulimia nervosa often have urges to eat extreme amounts of food and then immediately engage in behaviors, such as vomiting, using laxatives, or excessive exercise to rid themselves of the excess food they have consumed. People with bulimia nervosa may appear overweight or have a normal weight.
- Binge-eating disorder is usually characterized by bingeing, or excessive intakes of food without purging, which usually leads to excessive weight gain.
Potential Reasons for the Trend
- Almost half of adolescents with anorexia have a full recovery over time, but more than one third have only a partial recovery, and less than a quarter have no substantial improvement in their condition. Therefore, eating disorders may continue in some people, as they get older.
- In addition, some middle-aged women may have the proverbial mid-life crisis, during which they exhibit signs of eating disorders as a result of life’s pressures, such as peer and societal pressure to be thin and young, fear of sexuality (especially relating to aging issues and spouse’s interest), and family conflicts. In this scenario, these women may have previously engaged in healthful behaviors, but now are exhibiting signs of disordered eating and behaviors relating to weight.
- Finally, some women may be engaging in more healthful behaviors, such as exercise, than they had previously. But life pressures may build, pushing them to extremes as they fit in several hours of exercise per day—at which point this becomes an unhealthful behavior. Subsequently, it develops into a disordered behavior relating to weight. Some have referred to this behavior as gym bulimia.
Long-lasting Generational Effects
National Eating Disorders Association http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
National Institute of Mental Health http://www.nimh.nih.gov
National Eating Disorder Information Centre http://www.nedic.ca
Women's Health Matters http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca
Ackard DM, Richter S. Eating disorder treatment among women forty and older: increases in prevalence over time and comparisons to young adult patients. J Psychosom Res. 2013;74(2):175-178.
Anorexia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated February 20, 2013. Accessed September 27, 2013.
Bulimia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated March 28, 2013. Accessed September 27, 2013.
Eating disorder statistics. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders website. Available at: http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics. Accessed September 27, 2013.
General information. ational Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders website. Available at: http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/general-information. Accessed September 27, 2013.
Major, E. Children and eating disorders: A review of the literature. Vanderbilt University Psychology Department website. Available at: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/AnS/psychology/health%5Fpsychology/childrenandED.html. Accessed September 27, 2013.
Scholtz S, Hill LS, et al. Eating disorders in older women: does late onset anorexia nervosa exist? Int J Eat Disord. 2010;43(5):393-397.
Steinhausen HC. The outcome of anorexia nervosa in the 20th century. Am J Psychiatry. 2002 Aug;159(8):1284-93.
Trace SE, Baker JH, et al. The genetics of eating disorders. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2013;9:589-620.
Wiseman CV, Sunday SR, Klapper F, et al. Changing patterns of hospitalization in eating disorder patients. Int J of Eating Disorders. 2001;30:69-74.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 09/2013
- Update Date: 00/92/2013