Dealing With Mid-Life Aging and Loss May Lead to Eating Disorders in Women

Share Article

More women are facing eating disorders later in life with 62 percent of women over 50 saying their weight negatively impacts their life (June 21, CBS News: Therapist Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil explains this likely happens for two reasons: The Biochemical Craving for Connection, and because of the pressure society puts on women to always look young and beautiful.

A study featured on CBS News (June 21, CBS News: reports that 62 percent of women 50 and older say weight negatively impacts them, 13 percent of these women have eating disorders, and eight percent purge their food. As a therapist who deals with addiction and eating disorders, Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil attributes this behavior in part to what she calls the Biochemical Craving for Connection.

"This stems from stress, separation, and loss and causes people to self-medicate in order to feel that they have control of the situation," Dr. Bonnie explains. It's quite common for people in this phase of life to be dealing with some sort of stress from getting older, separation from their kids, or loss of their youth. Women in this age group may be facing divorce, empty nest syndrome, or even having their kids move back in with them, which creates a different kind of loss! In these cases, the self-medication or thrill-seeking comes from being able to control the food being eaten, and the reaction to that food, through behaviors like anorexia or bulimia.

Additionally, women are often tired, working 30 hours inside the home in addition to any job or career they have outside the home. If they don't get sleep, they will crave carb-y snacks, then feel they must diet in order to make up for their food choices. And on top of all that, women are the guardian of connection and feel responsible for their relationships.

Instead of trying to self-medicate as a way to fill the holes created by loss, Dr. Bonnie suggests doing grateful exercises. sit down and list things you're thankful for, then share that with your partner, children and friends. "We should all have gratitude for what we have," she says.

Another contributing factor to these statistics is that many women feel inadequate as they age. Dr. Bonnie says this is a hold over from prior to the women's lib movement, when women didn't feel they had intrinsic value and emphasis was placed on their ability to marry well, which was correlated to their attractiveness and youth. Society has not caught up with women: "Our society and the media continues to emphasize beauty and youthful looks - in magazines, ads, on TV. We know it's important to look on the inside, not the outside, but people are prejudiced toward beauty."

Women may also be worried about the threat of younger women, and fear that their husbands will have affairs or leave them for someone more youthful. As the CBS article states, it's the "cradle-to-grave ball-and-chain," and something that men don't face.

In the case of older women developing body issues and eating disorders, Dr. Bonnie points out it's not about food it's about their body and self-esteem. "Because of the societal hold-overs from past generations, a woman's self-esteem is often based on their looks and their body. Obviously these things change as we age, but women have a hard time appreciating their maturity and 'enduring appearance' as opposed to focusing on flaws," explains Dr. Bonnie.

She encourages women with a mis-perception of their body image to work toward a healthful balance, with the support of their community. "Being healthy and active is important but taken to the extreme, it can become an addiction. Women need to learn to re-map the patterns in their brain that lead to negative self-talk. If that is a long time coming," suggests Dr. Bonnie, "I encourage women to 'fake it till they make it.' Believe the best about themselves, even if they really don't. Eventually that will start to be true."

For further help on this, check out Dr. Bonnie's book Make Up Don't Break Up - she encourages people struggling with their weight to make up with their self image, not break up with it! To see Dr. Bonnie talk about healthful habits, click here:

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Dr. Bonnie Weil