Did you know that eating disorders affect older women as well as teenage and young women?
For some this may be anorexia, bulimia or binge eating.
Many women do not seek help due to a sensation of secrecy and shame, or fear of being forced to gain weight.
Anorexia nervosa is a condition where anxiety features heavily – a constant worry about calories, food and exercise, with constant intrusive thoughts on these issues. Women with this condition are afraid to gain weight as they believe they are overweight, when biology tells us they are underweight. This results in self starvation to the point where it can be life threatening. It is in fact a condition that can be deadly, resulting in loss of life in extreme cases.
Bulimia nervosa features a cycle of binge eating and then some action to avoid weight gain, such as purging (vomiting or using laxatives or diuretics).
Binge eating disorder is when people consume large amounts of food, often in secrecy as they feel ashamed. However people with this condition do not purge after the binge episode.
Many women do not necessarily meet the strict criteria for diagnosis of these conditions but they do suffer with psychological symptoms closely related and deserve to access the right kinds of treatment.
There are periods or triggers that put women at higher risk of developing an eating disorder as they age, such as grief, divorce, medical illness and awareness of aging. Women may suffer in silence for many years but as they age develop problems such as heart arrhythmias, dental problems or thin bones, which prompts them to address their underlying condition.
Treatment should be bio-psycho-social.
A nutritionist is helpful to support women in their recovery process – as women begin to eat more they need to ensure the gut is supported and vitamins / fluid levels remain balanced. When people start to eat after long periods of starvation they can have issues with this.
A medical doctor is crucial to support women with blood testing and tracking of vitamin of hormone levels which can be out of sync. Often anti-anxiety medicines to help maintain good serotonin levels in the brain can help with anxiety symptoms that feature in eating disorders.
Psychotherapy – options include cognitive behavioural therapy ,interpersonal and psychodynamic therapy. We are constantly evolving and it can be helpful to gain insight into issues such as loss, role transitions and unresolved relationships. Also people can learn techniques that help them develop healthier thought patterns.
There is no magic cure for eating disorders. However being able to identify and accept that these issues are in fact a problem is the first step on the road to recovery and it is important that women, no matter their age, feel that their issues will be recognised by health providers and that the right support is offered in a holistic and safe way.
By Dr Gabrielle Macaulay
Disclaimer: Information in our blogs are as accurate and comprehensive as possible. This is general advice and should not be used as a substitute for the individual advice readers might receive from consulting their own doctor. For other medical professionals reading, it is advised to use your own clinical judgement when interpreting the information and deciding how to best apply this to the treatment of their patients. Please see our terms and conditions page for further information on this.
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