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Fall 2012

Eating Disorders on the Rise Among Midlife Women

Eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating, affect 8 million Americans, 90 percent of whom are young women. But midlifers are also at risk.

In fact, over the past decade, the number of women older than 35 who have sought treatment has increased 42 percent. A recent study involving 1,800 U.S. women found that 62 percent of those older than 50 reported that their weight or shape adversely affected their lives. 

Sufferers may have a genetic predisposition that’s provoked by the environment. “Loss can be a trigger in middle age—whether it’s the loss of a parent, a sibling or children going off to college,” says Melissa Sundermann, D.O., who sees patients seeking treatment for eating disorders at Botsford Hospital’s Midwest Internal Medicine Associates in Livonia. The pressure from society to stay youthful looking can also be a catalyst.

At the core of the disease is the desire for control when life feels chaotic. “You can’t control the fact you have an empty nest, that your mother or father passed away, or that you’re growing older, but you can control what you eat,” Dr. Sundermann says. Symptoms include rapid weight loss; feeling the need to compensate for overeating by purging, vomiting, taking laxatives or diuretics; being preoccupied with food, your weight or your shape; or avoiding social situations in which food is involved.

Eating disorders are treatable. It’s important to get help from a trained physician like Dr. Sundermann, as well as a therapist and a registered dietitian, because eating disorders can cause serious complications, such as cardiac arrest, osteoporosis and esophageal or gastric rupture. Anorexia nervosa has the highest suicide rate of any mental illness. “Working with a multidisciplinary treatment team can help you regain your life,” Dr. Sundermann says. 

 

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