Reviewed by Margo Maine, PhD, FAED, CEDS

There is no age limit to disordered eating. Despite the damaging stereotype that eating disorders are a “teenager’s problem,” research shows that rates of eating disorders and body dissatisfaction occurring later in life are on the rise.1,2,3,4 Studies have found that among older adults aged 40 and above between 2-7.7% of women and approximately 1% of men meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder.5 These prevalence rates are even higher for individuals who are experiencing disordered eating and body image issues but do not meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder. For example, studies have found that 13% of women 50 years old and above and 7% of men aged 40 and above experience at least one current symptom of an eating disorder.3,5,6 Another notable study found that 73% of midlife women experience dissatisfaction with their weight which is a significant risk factor for the development of an eating disorder.6 Although the exact symptoms of eating disorders do not differ much from eating disorders at a younger life stage, the context can be drastically different.

Some older adults who suffer from an eating disorder have struggled since youth and have never recovered; others have recovered at some point then relapsed later in life. Some have had food and body image issues for years but were never incapacitated by them until now. While others, faced with the challenges of aging in our youth-obsessed world, develop rituals related to diet, exercise, and appearance for the first time in their lives, which can lead down the slippery slope of an eating disorder.3,7