Eating Disorders in MidlifeWhat Accounts for the Rise of Eating Disorders in Midlife?

We often think of eating disorders as illnesses that afflict adolescents and young adults. A 2012 study sheds light on the alarming prevalence of eating disorders in women 50 and over: 13% experience eating disorder symptoms, 60% report that their body image concerns negatively affect their lives, and 70% are actively trying to lose weight.

What accounts for the rise in eating disorders at midlife? According to an article from AARP, menopause echoes puberty with regard to the physical and psychological changes women experience.

Life stressors also play a role in the development of midlife eating disorders. Many women are adjusting to children leaving home, parents passing away, and careers ending in retirement. A woman who takes up an exercise and healthy eating routine to reduce stress may soon find herself caught up in eating disorder behaviors such as restriction of food, bingeing and purging, or over exercising.

Treatment Options

Treatment options for older women are the same as they are for teens and younger women: depending on diagnosis and severity of the illness, outpatient, intensive outpatient (IOP), partial hospitalization (PHP), residential, or inpatient treatment may be recommended. The most important thing is to seek professional help as soon as possible in order to receive the most appropriate treatment recommendations in a timely manner.

Eating disorders are challenging to treat, but maturity does bring some special strengths to the fight. Older women have more lived experiences and insights to draw on in treatment. They may also have more awareness of the dangers of the eating disorder. With the right treatment, women 50 and over can overcome their eating disorders and flourish.


Arnold, C. (2013). Eating disorders and women over 50. AARP, retrieved from