How eating disorders differ in mid-life:
- Full-fledged eating disorders are rare at any age, affecting fewer than 3% of teenagers and 1% of adults at any given time, according to government estimates. (An overwhelming majority of cases occur in women.)
- However, a smattering of data from around the world suggests the behaviors associated with bulimia and anorexia may be more common in mid-life than previously believed.
- The most recent evidence comes from a survey of 1,849 women age 50 and up, the results of which were published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.
- Eight percent of the respondents reported purging in the previous five years, and 7% said their efforts to control their weight led them to exercise so much that it had begun to interfere with their daily functioning.
- The survey, which was conducted online, isn't a reliable gauge of how common these behaviors are among adult women in the general population. But the results do provide a glimpse into disordered eating in middle age that rings true with the growing anecdotal evidence, the researchers say.
What's driving these women to purge or work out excessively? Although the survey didn't examine this question in detail, a majority of the survey respondents said they felt dissatisfied with their bodies -- a hallmark of eating disorders across all age groups.
Indeed, previous research suggests that many of the factors that underlie eating disorders in young people may contribute to similar problems in older populations.
According to a 2008 study in the Journal of General Psychology, the most common drivers include stress, depression, perfectionism, and social pressure to be thin, in addition to body dissatisfaction.
- Diane Butrym doesn't fit the stereotype of an eating disorder patient. She's a 51-year-old microbiologist and mother of two, not a troubled teen or 20-something, yet for the past decade she has struggled with bulimia.
- Butrym's problem began in 2002, which was an eventful year for her.
- That March she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and in October, after a successful course of treatment, she was struck by a car in a crosswalk on her way home from work, sustaining multiple ankle and knee injuries that required surgery.
- She had always been slim and athletic, and exercise was her outlet for stress.
- Sidelined with her injuries, Butrym began sharply restricting her calorie intake so she wouldn't gain weight, and before long she was binging and purging. The cycle started to feel addictive; it gave her much-needed pleasure and also eased her stress.
- "I was really angry about what was happening, and I didn't know any other way of getting rid of my anger," says Butrym, who lives in Schenectady, New York.
In recent years, doctors and researchers have begun to look more closely at disordered eating in mid-life.
Despite the growing attention, experts say the problem is likely underreported, partly because adult women disguise behaviors such as purging, and partly because eating disorders typically aren't on the radar screen of doctors who care for this age group.
"Eating disorders are still in the closet to a large extent, especially for adult women," says Margo Maine, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Hartford, Connecticut, who specializes in treating the disorders. "Adult women have such shame about admitting it."
Info from CNN.com