Eating Disorders Persist Into Middle Age

As young girls turn into young women, they take more notice of their appearance. It’s often in these early years that women may develop eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. Over time these women may find treatment to cure the disorder. But a recent study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reports that for some women these disorders are resurfacing when they are in middle age or older.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that most women who had eating disorders in their youth carried them through their adult years. Researchers studied the poor eating habits of 2,287 children and found that over half of the girls continued to have eating disorders into their late 20s.

Eating disorder centers have seen the same increase. Since 2001, one clinic has seen the number of middle-aged female clients rise by 42 percent.

Alison Smela, a 49-year-old from Chicago, said that she had battled an eating disorder since the age of 12. At age 40 she went through a program to help treat her alcohol addiction, but didn’t seek treatment for her eating disorder. She was too embarrassed to admit that she had a disorder that was often seen in young women rather than older women.

Dr. Ed Tyson, an eating disorders specialist in Austin, Texas, stated that Smela’s feelings about attending an eating disorder treatment program reflect the feelings of many middle-aged people who have eating disorders. He says they feel shame and odd that they are older than other eating disorder clients.

Another woman struggling with an eating disorder said that after she attended a meeting, the mother of one of the younger clients embarrassed her by asking her why she was there at her age. Insensitive comments and awkward situations have prompted some centers to create separate treatment programs for clients of an older age.

Holly Grishkat, Senior Director of Clinical Operations for the Renfrew Center’s northeast region, saw a need to tailor programs to the growing number of women who needed treatment for their eating disorders, but were too embarrassed to sit among a crowd of young women. Even if the older women were not embarrassed by the age gap, Grishkat found that often the older women would try to comfort and help the younger girls rather than focus on their own treatment. A separate program needed to be developed to successfully treat this age group.

Dr. Tyson stresses that treatment is crucial for these older clients. Middle-aged individuals shouldn’t ignore their eating disorder or downplay its impact on their lives. As bones and muscle age, the body can’t handle all of the stresses that eating disorders put upon them.

Grishkat and Tyson recommend that those with eating disorders seek treatment through the help of the National Eating Disorders Association, and professional treatment centers. By helping themselves they are also helping the next generation. Their good examples will reflect upon their children and among the friends and family around them.

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