Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating are the problems of teenagers. Or at least it can seem that way. The reality, of course, is that anyone can develop an eating disorder, regardless of age.
Today we’ll look at what researchers and experts in the field of eating disorders can tell us about eating disorders in adults, particularly adults in the middle or later years of life.
Our hope is to dispel the assumption that you can’t struggle with eating disorders once you hit a certain age. This matters because being able to identify the problem properly helps us to find the best possible solution. And if you’re suffering from anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating, you’ll benefit from professional help no matter how old you are.
Eating Disorders in Adults: What the Numbers Tell Us
To dispel the myth that eating disorders are for teens, let’s look at what research has found. Keep in mind eating disorder research centering around adults is new, less common, and often leaves out adult men who, of course, also suffer from disordered eating.
- Nearly 4% of women between the ages of 40 and 50 will experience an eating disorder this year. (1)
- Experts believe 13% of women over 50 live with an eating disorder. (2)
- The most common eating disorder for middle-aged women does not fit the mold of typical eating disorders. It is therefore called “other specified feeding and eating disorder” or OSFED, followed by binge eating, bulimia, and then anorexia. (1)
- Eating disorder treatment centers report a 42% increase in women over the age of 35 who reach out for help with an eating disorder compared to10 years ago. (2)
Healthline.com points out that because of the stigma surrounding eating disorders and the general assumption that an older woman can’t have an eating disorder, the real numbers are likely higher than what we see reported here. (2)
How Does an Eating Disorder Develop in Adulthood?
Studies point to three main reasons an eating disorder may show up in adulthood rather than adolescence:
As a result of a lingering eating disorder that they have not gotten help for until now.
When a person who recovered from an eating disorder as a teen relapses as an adult.
When a person develops an eating disorder for the first time in midlife. (1)
Some moments in adulthood can trigger a relapse of an old eating disorder or the start of a new one. These include pregnancy, divorce, the death of a loved one, retirement, becoming an empty nester, becoming a grandparent, and taking care of one’s own aging parents. (3)
And, of course, two of the biggest factors at play are those found in adolescents but with a twist: hormone changes and body image issues.
When a woman enters perimenopause or menopause, the hormone changes endured can increase the likelihood of developing an eating disorder. And body image issues, while prevalent in the teenage years, can resurface in adulthood as a person grapples with the effects of aging on the body. (1)
If you’re an adult struggling with an eating disorder, please know that you’re not alone. We’re here to help. Find the location nearest you today.