Eating Disorders Among Adult Women

By Staff Writer

Say the words “eating disorder” to most people, and their first thought is likely to be of a teen girl or young adult woman who is struggling with poor body image and/or low self-esteem.

This makes sense – as this population does make up the vast majority of eating disorder sufferers. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about 90 percent of eating disorder cases involve girls and women between the ages of 12 and 25.

But with an estimated 24 million Americans struggling with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder or a related condition, the “other” 10 percent of disordered eaters consists of nearly 2.5 million people in the United States alone – many of whom are adult women.

The prevalence of eating disorders among adult women has been increasing for many years now.

“We are definitely seeing an increase in women over the age of 30 and 35 seeking treatment [for eating disorders,” Dr. Katherine Halmi, director of the eating disorder program at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in White Plains, New York, said in a Nov. 28, 2006 CNN article. Halmi estimated that the number of adult women who were in treatment for eating disorders had more than doubled from 1988 to 2006.

The Mayo Clinic website indicates that most cases of eating disorders among adult women fall into one of the following three categories.

  • Women whose struggles with their eating disorder continued for years (or decades) before they finally sought treatment..
  • Women who overcame an eating disorder during their teen years or young adulthood, only to experience a relapse of disordered eating later in their adult lives.
  • Women who never suffered from an eating disorder before developing anorexia, bulimia, binge eating or another eating disorder later in life.

Factors that contribute to the development of an eating disorder (for example, low self-esteem, poor self-image, depression, societal pressures and stress management problems) are similar regardless of the age at which a woman first begins to struggle with disordered eating.

Regardless of the age of a woman with an eating disorder, that effective treatment – including, depending upon the specific situation comprehensive residential treatment, intensive outpatient, or partial hospitalization– offers a lifeline back to a healthier behavior and a more promising future.