Eating disorders are often associated with young women and teen girls, but a new survey targeted at women over 50 suggests they are suffering from many of the same disorders and poor self esteem. Dr. Cynthia Bulik, Director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, reached 1,849 women across the U.S. with a survey entitled “Body Image in Women 50 and Over – Tell Us What You Think and Feel.”
“We know very little about how women aged 50 and above feel about their bodies,” said Bulik. “An unfortunate assumption is that they ‘grow out of’ body dissatisfaction and eating disorders, but no one has really bothered to ask. Since most research focuses on younger women, our goal was to capture the concerns of women in this age range to inform future research and service planning.” The results of the survey were enough to convince Bulik that eating disorders and body dissatisfaction certainly does exist among older women.
The study was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders. In the study, 8% of women reported purging in the last 5 years and 3.5% reported binge eating in the last month. Most of these behaviors were reported among women in their early 50s, but some as old 75 said this as well. 36% of women said they spent at least half of their time dieting in the last 5 years. 62% said that their weight or shape negatively impacted their life. 64% said they thought about it daily.
In an interview with CBS This Morning, Bulik attributes the pressure on older women to look younger as the primary cause of these eating disorders and negative self esteem. One of her most striking quotes from this interview for me was when she said, “There’s no niche for a grandma anymore.” I find this statement to be so true. I have personally witnessed age discrimination in the workplace. It is so sad to see experienced and capable women being deemed incapable based on their looks. I have embedded the rest of this interview below.
Dr. Bulik suggested that women look in the mirror and try to point out positive things about themselves that are not related to looks. One of the ways to a healthier outlook is to get away from the daily focus on appearance. Hopefully this research will help the medical community recognize these disorders and negative self images in women over 50.
For more information about this research, go to UNC Eating Disorders Program at http://www.med.unc.edu/psych/eatingdisorders.