Eating Disorders and Women Over 50
She stopped in and bought six large boxes of movie-theater candy and a king-size chocolate bar with one thought in mind. She planned to eat every last bite and then force herself to throw up.
Hodgins suffers from bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder that compels people to binge on large amounts of food and then purge the calories through vomiting, pills or excessive exercise.
Although most people think of eating disorders as a young person’s problem, Hodgins is no teenager. She’s a 53-year-old mother of two living in Philadelphia, and she’s one of a disturbing number of middle-aged adults suffering from life-threatening eating disorders.
In June 2012 the prestigious International Journal of Eating Disorders published the results of a seminal study on the prevalence of eating disorders in midlife and beyond.
Lead study author Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D., director of the Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, found that 13 percent of American women 50 or older experience symptoms of an eating disorder; 60 percent report that their concerns about weight and shape negatively affect their lives; and 70 percent are trying to lose weight.
“Eating disorders affect quality of life, and this has a tremendous impact on society,” Bulik says. “It can affect productivity at work, well-being at home, and it can have very serious economic impacts” on families, as many insurance companies are reluctant to pay for care.
Although excessive concerns about weight can appear to be little more than vanity, an eating disorder is a mental illness with close links to depression and anxiety.
Besides bulimia, eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, which causes a person to starve herself even while underweight, and binge eating disorder, which causes a person to consume large amounts of food without purging.
Patients who meet some, but not all, of the criteria for anorexia or bulimia or have other symptoms (such as forcing themselves to vomit after eating normal amounts of food, or chewing and spitting out large amounts of food) may be diagnosed with other specified feeding and eating disorder (OSFED).