Eating disorders not just a problem for the young

If someone asked you to imagine a woman struggling to overcome bulimia or anorexia, your mind would likely conjure an image of a high school teen or college student.

 But, according to new research from the UNC-Chapel Hill, disordered eating affects women of all ages – not just adolescents. The problem is even scarier than one might guess. Some of the most concerning stats reported by the News & Observer include:

  • Among women age 50 and older, 62 percent had frequent concerns about their shape, a few times a week or more.
  • Four out of five indicated their body image played the most important role in their self-perception.
  • A full 71 percent were trying to lose weight.

  “This study is consistent with others indicating that disordered eating may span the lifetime for some women,” noted Dr. Irma Coral, Assistant Professor of Psychiatric Medicine.

 Although we often talk about the detrimental effects of a nation plagued by obesity, a lifetime of disordered eating is also a step in the wrong direction. Skinny does not necessarily equal “healthy.” Health consequences of disordering eating include heart and gastrointestinal problems, osteoporosis and tooth decay (as purging can erode enamel on teeth).

 “Unfortunately, disordered eating habits in conjunction with weight-related body image concerns tend to only perpetuate problems with weight and self-perception. Working with a mental health provider can help women to focus on healthy eating and separate self-worth from weight,” added Dr. Brandon Kyle, Assistant Professor of Psychiatric Medicine.

 Plastic surgery and airbrushed magazine pages often make it hard to discern what a normal person should look like. Expectations of our bodies are skewed, and it’s clearly a problem – even for mothers and grandmothers.

 This study is a reminder to families, peers and health care providers that numbers on a scale do not determine a person’s physical well-being. A positive body image, healthy diet (different from “on a diet”) and regular physical activity are always good measure.

 If you are concerned that a patient or loved one may be struggling with disordered eating habits, remember that a professional psychological evaluation can assist in establishing a diagnosis and in developing a treatment plan for girls and women of a variety of ages.  Such services are available locally at the ECU Physicians Health Psychology Service within the ECU Department of Psychiatric Medicine.

For more information on eating disorders, visit:

–Dr. Irma Corral, Assistant Professor
Department of Psychiatric Medicine

 –Dr. Brandon Kyle, Assistant Professor
Department of Psychiatric Medicine