The Pressures of Being “Young Forever”: Rising Eating Disorders in Middle-Aged Women

Women under an umbrella discussing Eating disorders in middle-aged women

The obsessive pursuit of being thin doesn’t just influence teenagers and younger women. A Kansas State University study revealed intense body image dissatisfaction by over 20 percent of middle-aged women in the United States. Eating disorders in middle-aged women is on the rise as they are striving to be “young forever.”

The desire to look like the myriad of media-portrayed ‘beauty’ with white teeth, flawless skin, long legs, and tiny waists forces women to assess themselves against these artificial images and feel insecure, ashamed and guilty. This pressure becomes even more profound for middle-aged women as advertisements upon advertisements promote looking young and thin forever.

Eating disorders in middle-aged women on the rise

Even though eating disorders often appear in adolescence, they have also been increasingly noticed among middle-aged and older women. One in 28 women aged 40 to 50 are living with an active eating disorder, such as anorexia and bulimia, a recent study revealed. These numbers come as a surprise when the most part of research has been focused upon adolescents and younger adults.

An online survey funded by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and presented on by the National Eating Disorders Association revealed that eating disorders are bound by no age limits.

Furthermore, the survey data showed that obvious eating disorder symptoms were confirmed by 13 percent of middle-aged women, while 70 percent reported they were attempting to lose weight.

Emmett R. Bishop, MD, a founding partner and medical director of adult services at the Eating Recovery Center in Denver has observed a noticeable increase in older women seeking treatment for eating disorders at his facility. Dr. Bishop termed this a patient demographic “that you would not have seen ten years ago.”

Most often, this particular patient population reported a triggering accident, which might be a stressful life event such as divorce or medical illness. In other cases, eating disorders were present all along but ignored until physical complications took over, Bishop explained.

Why is this more concerning for middle-aged women?

With the desire and pressure to be thin, the health effects of eating disorders in older women have become a significant concern. As the human body becomes less resilient with age, older women are less likely to bounce back from the repercussions of an eating disorder.

The threat of gastrointestinal, cardiac, bone, and even dental consequences intensifies as women mature. Such health consequences also have a significantly negative impact on other family members as well.

It is also important to remember that as women near middle-age, natural biological changes in energy levels, estrogen imbalances regarding menopause and reductions in muscle mass and metabolism all contribute to some or more weight gain.

Group for women battling Eating disorders in middle-aged womenEven more shockingly, a growing number of women report body weight and shape dissatisfaction as a primary motivator for both legal and illicit drug use. Stimulants are increasingly popular among women due to their ability to elevate metabolic functioning and inhibit appetite. As a result, middle-aged women are dying from drug overdoses at increasingly high rates.

Moving ahead

Stereotyping eating disorders as an illness of the young can be damaging and add to the already existing stigma that prevents a patient from seeking much-needed help.

It is essential to realize that the media manipulates our perceptions, and the “perfect bodies” are largely Photoshopped. Secondly, acknowledge that there is no quick fix, be it a diet, an exercise regimen, or a pill. What is most important is to adopt a healthy lifestyle with a well-adjusted balance of food and exercise to maximize your mental and physical health.

Above all, embrace who you are and how you look at the moment. Aging is the process of life, and nothing can stop that. Health, happiness, and confidence come in all shapes and sizes. Let’s not just believe that for ourselves but also promote an environment where women of all ages and sizes can accept their bodies and feel good about themselves.



About the Author:

Sana Ahmed ImageSana Ahmed is a journalist and social media savvy content writer with extensive research, print, and on-air interview skills. She has previously worked as a staff writer for a renowned rehabilitation institute, a content writer for a marketing agency, an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster.

Sana graduated with a Bachelors in Economics and Management from the London School of Economics and began a career of research and writing right after. Her recent work has largely been focused upon mental health and addiction recovery.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on May 23, 2019.
Reviewed & Approved on May 23, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

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About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.