When Menopause Triggers an Eating Disorder
Experts says rates among midlife women are rising. Here’s what we know.
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An estimated 20 million women in America will suffer from an eating disorder — defined as a preoccupation with body weight, body shape or food — at some point in their life.
That includes midlife too.
The behaviors and symptoms of eating disorders tend to be similar across the board, including restricted eating, bingeing and purging. However, for women in midlife, the context can be very different, says the National Eating Disorders Association.
Changes in estrogen, combined with social pressures, can bring a “perfect storm” for developing an eating disorder during the menopausal years:
You could be someone who has struggled all your life with an eating disorder — something that continues still.
You might have recovered from a prior eating disorder but relapsed.
You may have had issues with your weight and food for many years, but it’s getting much worse now.
Our youth-obsessed society can make aging a struggle for many women, who try to hold onto an unrealistic version of themselves.
Add in the sense of embarrassment that can come with dealing with a “teenagers’ issue,” and you may feel even more compelled to try to power through to get over it. Not to mention your never-ending list of adult responsibilities and worries that make it hard to focus on your own concerns.
No wonder, then, that so many of us resist seeking treatment. If this is you, know that the health consequences of eating disorders are serious to our physical and mental health — and potentially life-threatening.
What you need to know
Eating disorders can affect your cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological and endocrine systems, upping your risk for heart attacks, bacterial infections, pancreatitis, and malnutrition. They can also wreak havoc with your concentration, sleep, thyroid hormones and metabolic rate. The longer an eating disorder goes on, the worse the cardiac, bone, dental and other effects it has on your body.
And as with so much we have to look out for these days, the older we get, the tougher it is for our bodies to bounce back from the stress an eating disorder puts on it:
Skin can become even drier, and your hair more brittle and more likely to fall out.
Bone loss can accelerate.
Resting metabolic rate can fall even lower.
Insulin resistance can increase (leading to type-2 diabetes).
Cholesterol levels can increase.
Changes in certain types of blood cells can occur, leading to anemia as well as the inability to fight infection.
Importantly too, eating disorders can harm our mental health, hurting not only ourselves but those who love us.
If you think you might have developed (or are verging) on an eating disorder, know first that you are not alone — and that help is available.
A first step? Talk to your doctor about your concerns and symptoms and visit the National Eating Disorders Association to begin your journey to find the help, resources and support you need.
Get the support you need to be the healthy person you are meant to be.
Because you deserve it.
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