Eating Disorders in Midlife Not Just a Young Persons IllnessEating Disorders in Midlife: Not Just a Young Person’s Illness

What does the face of an eating disorder look like? Is it a young teenage girl struggling with body image?  A college athlete trying to lose weight for a meet? The truth is, an eating disorder can strike anyone at any age. Midlife eating disorders are on the rise in both women and men, and the triggers are not just related to appearance and weight.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association , 43 million adult women in the United States are dieting to lose weight. Even among women aged 61 to 92, weight was identified as their most significant concern about their bodies. One-third of inpatient eating disorder admissions in 2003 were over 30 years old. These are alarming statistics that lay to rest any misconception that eating disorders are an adolescent illness.

What Are the Triggers?

All of us, regardless of age, are inundated with messages every minute of every day. Some of these messages make us feel as though we are not doing enough, that WE are not enough: not rich enough, successful enough, thin enough, a good enough parent, a good enough spouse….the list goes on. For adolescents in the delicate stages of self-formation, pressure from peers and messages from the world can wreak havoc on self-esteem that hasn’t had a chance to grow. As adults, we face not only the cultural climate of “more” but also triggers that are life-altering.

For adults, triggers responsible for the development of or relapse of an eating disorder include:

  • Divorce
  • Career change or loss
  • Death of a parent
  • Birth of a child
  • Menopause
  • Work issues
  • Infidelity
  • Balance
  • Retirement

Navigating these changes can be seriously overwhelming. Aging itself brings transitions that can be devastating, including medical issues and challenges with appearing older (wrinkles, gray hair, etc.). Aging women, in particular, may experience feeling as though they must compete with their younger counterparts. Being able to control one’s food intake and weight can bring control to chaos and a feeling of worth that is lacking due to these triggers.

Finding Support

It does not matter how old you are- eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that can cause significant emotional and medical problems. If you or someone you know is struggling with disordered thoughts and behaviors, it is time to ask for help. Adult treatment programs used to be hard to come by but are now more prolific thanks to the rising awareness we have of midlife eating disorders.




National Eating Disorders Association

National Mental Health Information Center