An Eating Disorder Can Strike at Any Age – Including Middle-Age

Middle-aged woman with daughter

Eating disorders are commonly stereotyped, depicted to affect primarily young, adolescent females.  However, nothing could be farther from the truth as the eating disorder shadow knows no boundaries or limitations.  In reality, eating disorders can impact individuals across the life cycle, including males and females, young and old and everyone in between.  Largely in part to the media’s role in our society, eating disorders have long been portrayed as something that is partial to teenage females, but the truth of the matter is that eating disorders do not play favoritism when it comes to selecting their victims.  Eating disorders are not partial to any age, race, or ethnicity, as we have observed these diseases unfold.

One population in particular that seems to suffer silently in the shadows is women who are in their middle-aged to older years.  Women in this age range experience vulnerabilities in life just as adolescents and can be even more prone to developing an eating disorder as a coping mechanism through any of life’s difficulties.

A study from the University Of North Carolina School Of Medicine revealed the severity of this reality.  In a research effort that reached almost 1,900 women from the across the U.S. , researchers found that in women aged 50 and over, 3.5% reported binge eating, nearly 8% reported purging, and more than 70% were attempting to lose weight [1].  The study also discovered that a startling 62% of women had claimed that their weight or shape negatively affected their life, and two-thirds of the women reported being unhappy with their overall appearance [1].  Participants in this study had an average age of 59 years old.

These statistics exemplify the realism of eating disorders and the ability of these diseases to strike at any point in a man or woman’s life.  What can be said or done about information such as this?

Lead researcher of this study, Dr. Cynthia Bulik, noted the need for greater attention and focus on women in this age range stating, “The bottom line is that eating disorders and weight and shape concerns don’t discriminate on the basis of age.  Health care providers should remain alert for eating disorder symptoms and weight and shape concerns that may adversely influence women’s physical and psychological wellbeing as they mature.”

It is crucial that as a society, we break the stereotypes that circulate about eating disorders.  The truth of the matter is that many individuals are suffering with these terrible diseases, and every person, regardless of gender, age, race, or ethnicity, is needing and deserving of the treatment and resources required to discover healing and recovery.  When we begin to break these types of stereotypes, we break down walls that may have been preventing someone from reaching out for help.

If you or someone you love is a middle-aged or older adult women struggling with an eating disorder, know that you are NOT alone.  You may have been experiencing catastrophes in your own life that have left you feeling as though nothing could keep you afloat but your eating disorder.  It is important to understand that it is never too late to seek the help you need to live your best life yet.



“Eating disorder behaviors and weight concerns are common in women over 50”.  UNC Health care and UNC School of Medicine Newsroom. Accessed 22 July 2013

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Eating Disorder Hope in 2005, driven by a profound desire to help those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. This passion resulted from her battle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder. As president, Jacquelyn manages Ekern Enterprises, Inc. and the Eating Disorder Hope website.