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New surge in over-50s with eating disorders

AN increasing number of Irish women over the age of 50 are reporting with eating disorders.

New research has identified serious evidence of the conditions associated with anorexia, bulimia and obesity.

Nearly 8pc of those surveyed reported purging, over 3.5pc reported binge eating and more than 70pc are trying to lose weight, according to the Gender and Body Image Study (GABI) carried out in the US.

And its not just a phenomenon found in the States.

BodyWhys, the organisation for eating disorders here, reported receiving calls from women into their 70s.

"It wouldn't be unusual to hear from somebody at that age," said Harriet Parsons, services coordinator at BodyWhys.

"It is mostly thought to be something that affects younger women. But it can be triggered in anybody at any age.

"Often the trigger is some kind of life event or change in a person's life where having a strong sense of self is really important."

Ms Parsons said that particularly women who have financial difficulties find themselves changing their eating patterns.

"It can often come about if there is something they feel they are losing control of, or they feel a bit fragile," she said.

"Some people, and we don't know why, use this controlling of their food, or controlling their body which can help them to cope.

"It could be that it starts in an innocuous way. They go on a diet or start exercising. If they lose weight it can bring a sense of achievement.

"Then they rely on it to make themselves feel better."

Researcher Dr Cynthia Bulik, Director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, who led the study said that very little is known about how women aged 50 and above feel about their bodies.


"An unfortunate assumption is that they 'grow out of' body dissatisfaction and eating disorders, but no one has really bothered to ask," she said.

More than a quarter of those interviewed were obese and 29pc were overweight and 2pc underweight.

About 8pc of women reported the bulimic behaviour of purging in the last five years and 3.5pc reported binge eating in the last month.

These behaviours were most prevalent in women in their early 50s, but also occurred in women over 75.