Connections between Age and Eating Disorders

Connections between Age and Eating DisordersA person’s age has an effect on their risk for disordered eating habits or an eating disorder. Most people associate these maladaptive behaviors with teenage or young adult women, wanting to fit it and be accepted. It is often thought that younger minds would be more inclined to adhere to the uber-thin, one-sized, body type of a supermodel that every public image strives to be, but research suggests that eating disorder behaviors are more prevalent in middle aged, and elderly individuals than one would believe.

How Age Affects Eating Disorders

The International Journal of Eating Disorders, published the results from a survey of close to 2,000 women, aged 50 and up, where 8% of the women reported purging in the previous five years and 7% of respondents reported unhealthy, compulsive exercise or weight-controlling behavior that was so intense it interfered with their daily functioning. While the highest rates of eating disorder occurrence is among adolescence and early adulthood, more studies are finding that eating disorders are more common in middle-aged and senior citizens than previously thought.

The very issues that influence eating disorders or disordered eating habits among younger aged individuals also influence older adults, such as:

  • Stress
  • Depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, personality disorders, and other mental health issues
  • Perfectionism
  • Social pressure to be thin, media pressures to be thin
  • Body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, lacking self-identity
  • Participation in certain sports and activities or the military
  • Family influence, high expectations, family discord, overprotective parenting, parental indifference and physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect
  • Feeling left out, loneliness, being a minority (LGBT individuals, racial minority)

Reasons specific to different age groups influencing eating disorder behaviors include:

  • Wanting to fit in and be socially accepted is more of an influencing factor among adolescent and early adult individuals.
  • Mental health issues, like depression, stress and adapting to physical changes after pregnancy, menopause and other changes that come with age are issues that are more influential to middle-aged individuals in their late 30’s-50’s.
  • Mental health problems are also a significant eating disorder risk factor among seniors. Other key issues involve being over-medicated, lacking the care they need (not being able to cook or grocery shop), self-destructive behaviors evolving due to the emotional pain of losing a loved one, living alone or being put into a retirement or other assisted living home. It is common for elderly individuals to act out when they feel they are not getting the attention and care they deserve from friends or family.

How Age Impacts Eating Disorder Treatment and Recovery

Age also plays a role in the treatment of eating disorders. Individuals struggling with eating disorders commonly experience a great deal of shame, guilt, embarrassment, and vulnerability. Treatment can seem especially frightening, and having a treatment environment that is comfortable can make a huge difference in getting patients to open up and make progress. By providing specialized eating disorder treatment programs for women, teens, victims of abuse and other groupings, individuals can develop relationships with other patients, gain support and understanding and go through treatment with feeling of security.

Find Age-Specific Treatment for Eating Disorders

If you or a loved one is ready to find help for an eating disorder, please call our toll-free helpline. A recovery professional is available 24 hours a day to assist you with your questions, concerns, and needed information. We can help you find the treatment and recovery services that meet your specific needs.