March 11, 2010 Jeanne Rust

Older Women with Eating Disorders

Body dissatisfaction: it's not just for teens and young women anymore.

Eating disorders are on the rise among middle aged and older women. And they are often misdiagnosed -- not only because they're unexpected -- but because weight loss and changes in appetite can also occur as a result of illness or medication.

Our culture's obsession with youth, thinness and looking good can cause many older women to experiment with compulsive exercise or dieting to ward off the signs of aging. Older women may also experience increased trauma as the result of the death of a spouse, divorce, children leaving home, menopause or a combination of sources. For some women, even natural aging can be traumatic. They look in the mirror and no longer see the bright, hopeful face of their youth.

When a traumatic event occurs, some women may choose to focus on the things they can control -- like their eating, weight and fitness -- rather than experience the pain of events that are completely out of their control (like the aging process).

A recent study in Austria is one of the first to look at poor body image and eating disorders in older women. The study included a random group of 475 women between the ages of 60-70. 90% of the women in the study felt fat, and 60% were dissatisfied with their bodies! Over 80% of the women made great efforts to maintain or lose weight. 4% of the women had clinical eating disorders, and another 4% had at least one symptom of an eating disorder, such as abuse of laxatives, diuretics, vomiting, bingeing, or compulsive exercise.