Eating Disorders Occur at Midlife, Too

The mean weight loss from weight suppression was 16 lb.

Although eating disorders are most often diagnosed in teens and young adults, there has been a recent increased focus on EDs in people beyond their teens and 20s. The results of a recent study remind us that disordered eating and eating disorders can occur at any age.

Erica L. Goodman, MA, from the University of North Dakota, Fargo, and colleagues recently investigated weight suppression (WS) among a community sample of 1,776 women from 50 to 89 years of age (mean age: 59 years) (Int J Eat Disord.2018; doi:1002/eat.22869). The women were all participants in the Gender and Body Image (GABI) Study, which examined the physical and psychological experience of aging, the injustices, and the inequities and challenges of aging (J Women Aging. 2017; 29:3).

The authors noted that most women experience an increase in body mass index (BMI) over their lifetime, and changing weight patterns at midlife may be a marker of the development of midlife EDs and body dissatisfaction. Weight suppression (WS) is associated with concerns about weight, weight-loss practices, and low-fat eating behavior, along with higher levels of restraint, drive for thinness, and dieting behaviors. The authors noted that most women experience changes in weight, and gain an average of 1 lb per year.

In the current study, women 50 years of age or older completed an online survey that gathered demographic information and eating psychopathology information. The authors particularly were looking for changes in BMI, binge eating and purging, weight control, checking behaviors, and overvaluation of weight and shape.

The majority had tried to suppress weight

Eighty-five percent of the women participating in the study had a history of attempts to suppress their weight, and the amount of weight lost ranged up to 260 lb (mean weight suppression: 16 lb). The authors’ original hypothesis that women with high WS and weight elevation (WE) scores would experience more eating disorder symptoms than those who were low on one or both measures was supported. They also found that higher levels of WS and weight increases enhanced an individual’s risk for skipping meals over the lifetime.  Higher WS ratings would indicate that a woman at midlife would be at greater risk of weight checking, overvaluation, binge eating and lifetime fasting.

These findings suggest weight elevation may be an important factor in need of further study.

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