Health · Menopause

Menopause and Eating Disorders

Both hormonal change and the stress of transition into a new life stage may affect women in midlife negatively. Early-onset menopause and its association with depression were discussed last month.  Another unexpected mental health problem affecting women in midlife is the spectrum of eating disorders.

Eating disorders have long been thought of as an affliction of the young.  Many assumed that they were triggered because adolescents and young adult women, obsessed with models in magazines and desperate to fit in, were starving themselves into a culturally condoned body type.  However, the more we learn about disordered eating, the more we have come to realize that this problem is far more complex than that, and affects women (and men as well), across the lifespan.  An article published in Maturitas, a scientific journal focused on midlife and beyond, reported on research in the area of eating disorders during the peri-menopausal period.

A significant number of women in midlife are affected by dysfunctional eating behavior.  A study of women over 50 found that over 13 percent have at least one eating disorder symptom, such as low weight, intermittent binge eating, and unhealthy compensatory behaviors (laxative abuse, restriction of food intake, etc.).  Another study, looking at women in their 40s and 50s, found that some 11 percent were binge eating and over 13 percent engaged in severe restriction in an attempt to control weight.  Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, disorders once thought to be present primarily in adolescence, appear to be present in about 4 percent of women in midlife.

Some women have struggled with eating disorders their entire life, or had an eating disorder in adolescence that seemed to resolve, only to recur as they went through menopause. For others, though, an eating disorder develops for the first time in midlife. (Read more on Eating Disorders in Midlife.) In fact, some research suggests that almost 70 percent of cases of women developing an eating disorder later in life are doing so for the first time.

Notably, while young women are more likely to fall into severely restrictive eating habits, women in midlife tend to have more of a problem with binge eating.  There is much interest in the cause of this form of disordered eating, but there are no real answers yet.

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  • Leslie in Oregon July 10, 2017 at 9:30 pm

    Informative…and horrifying ((9 out of 10 women 45 and older, as well as 9 out of 10 younger women, are not happy with their bodies!).

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