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Eating Disorders and Middle-Age

Eating Disorders in Middle Aged WomenEating disorders are typically considered an illness that affects young women in their teens and early twenties but in recent years, there has been an increase of eating disorder cases, particularly Bulimia Nervosa, among middle-aged women.  Bulimia nervosa, which is defined DSM-IV, is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating, and recurrent inappropriate compensatory behavior in order to prevent weight gain. Binge eating is the consumption of a large amount of food in a short period of time. The binge is associated with a feeling of loss of control and it is often followed by the compensatory behavior of purging. Classically, purging is considered to be vomiting; however, it may take the form of laxative, ipecac, diuretic, or enema abuse, excessive exercise, or periods of fasting. The binging and purging behaviors must occur twice weekly for 3 months to meet diagnostic criteria. Preoccupation with body shape and size accompanies the disease. Like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa is also divided into 2 subtypes: (1) the purging type, in which the patient uses laxatives, diuretics, and/or vomiting to empty herself of the food, and (2) the non-purging type, in which she follows her binge with excessive exercise and/or fasting.

According to an article from the International Journal of Eating Disorders (1998), which surveyed 1,053 women ages 30-74, found that 71% in this general population sample expressed dissatisfaction about their weight. In a similar study, The Journal of Women & Aging (2004) surveyed over a thousand women aged 54 and found that 80% of them had body dissatisfaction. Nationally, eating disorder treatment centers are reporting an increased incidence of middle-aged women patients. Experts estimate that in this past decade, there has been a 40% increase in admissions for women over 40 in facilities nationwide.

There are several possible explainations for the increase in cases, which include increased awareness of eating disorder symptomology and more accurate diagnostic criteria. Additionally, certain life events that are specific to middle-aged women such as death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job compounded by the natural changes to an aging woman’s body could be triggers to the onset or recurrence of an eating disorder.

The treatment for eating disorders in middle age must be tailored to the patient’s specific life circumstances and challenges. At the Walker Wellness Clinic, we incorporate a comprehensive team approach in working with psychologists, licensed professional counselors, clinical dietitians, adjunct therapist (i.e., art, music or sand-tray therapist), and exercise physiologist. Our mental health professionals also incorporate Psychological Testing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and a Family Systems Approach to treatment. Our eating disorder treatment program is clinically tailored to meet individual needs and provide patients with the skills that they need to lead more healthy, productive lives.

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