Central Fla. physicians find eating disorders in older women

More women over 50 suffering from eating disorders


WINTER PARK, Fla. – When we say eating disorders, you might think of troubled teens and young adults, but certainly not women over the age of 50.

But anorexia, bulimia, even binge eating are more common with women this age than you might think.

A new study just released show us how worried women really are about gaining weight as they get older. In fact, mental health counselors in Central Florida say they're seeing more women over the age of 50 getting treated for eating disorders.

"Eating disorders don't discriminate by age," says Sandee Nebel, an eating disorder expert at the White Picket Fence Counseling Center in Winter Park.

Nebel is seeing an alarming trend: middle-aged women obsession over food to the point where they don't eat at all, or they eat too much, too quickly.

"Food or lack of food or getting rid of the food or anything with the food becomes such a focus," says Nebel.

Nebel isn't surprised by a new study from the University of North Carolina. It finds that 13 percent of women older than 50 say they binge, purse, or having some kind of eating disorder.

Many admit to using diet pills, laxatives, and excessive exercise to control their weight.

And 62 percent say their weight negatively affects their lives.

The author of the study says a number of things force women to have unhealthy habits.

"There's such a pressure on older women to not look like they're becoming older," says Dr. Cynthia Bulik, the lead researcher of the report. "The pressure to not age is so strong, and that leads them down the path of unhealthy eating and diet behaviors."

Dr. Bulik says eating disorders are especially common with women who've experienced some kind of loss, including divorce, the death of a loved one, getting fired from work, or when their children leave home to go to college or move out to start their careers.

Doctors and counselors agree that regular treatment can help, including meeting with a dietician, going through group therapy, and working on your self esteem.

"Look in the mirror, and instead of looking for flaws and figuring out what's wrong, say something positive about yourself," says Dr. Bulik. "Not about your appearance, but about some other enduring characteristic that will be there long after your looks fade."

Counselors say women with eating disorders have the highest death rates of any other mental health illness.

For information about the International Association of Eating Disorders, click here.

For information about the Eating Disorder Network of Central Florida, click here.

For information about the White Picket Fence Counseling Center, click here.