For decades, the topic of eating disorders conjured an immediate stereotype – female, beautiful, a high achiever, affluent, often the first-born, and above all, young. She might be the high school prom queen, or the college cheerleader, but hardly ever was she a middle-aged mother of three. Indeed, the very idea that a woman in midlife could suffer from anorexia or bulimia was nearly unimaginable.
In years past, experts believed eating disorders rarely, if ever, occurred after the age of 35; we now know anorexia occurs across the lifespan, in girls and women, boys and men. In fact, behavioral and mental health professionals report that in the past decade, they are treating an increasing number of women in their 30s, 40s and 50s who are starving themselves. Additionally, these women are abusing laxatives, exercising to dangerous extremes and self-harming – behaviors that frequently co-occur.
Women seeking treatment later in life typically fall into one of three categories: those who have secretly struggled with an eating disorder for many years yet did not receive help; those who were treated for an eating disorder in younger years; and those who developed an eating disorder as an adult.