Inside the World of Adult Eating Disorders


When most people think of eating disorders, teenagers or young people come to mind. In fact, more and more people in their thirties and forties also struggle with their eating habits, develop adult eating disorders and need professional help.

One study revealed that in the age group 45-65, the number of people with eating disorders is increasing. From the years 1999-2000, compared to the years 2005-2006, the number of people with adult eating disorders jumped 48 percent.1 For adults over the age of 65, the increase was 24 percent. The study also reported that people ages 30 and older accounted for 46 percent of all hospital stays for eating disorders.

Mistakenly, many people believe that adult eating disorders are a choice. Actually, eating disorders are serious and sometimes fatal disorders that lead to serious disruptions in a person’s eating habits. Becoming obsessed with body image, weight and appearance are also signs of an eating disorder.

Adult eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia
  • Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
  • Binge Eating Disorder
  • Bulimia
  • Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders

Triggers for Adult Eating Disorders

The triggers for adult eating disorders differ from that of young people or children and often include:

  • Pregnancy and Childbirth
  • Fertility Problems
  • Parenting
  • Becoming a Grandparent
  • Menopause
  • Aging
  • Death or Loss (such as divorce or empty nest syndrome)
  • Infidelity
  • Work Pressures
  • Challenges of Maintaining a Work/Family Balance
  • Retirement
  • Aging Parents

Treatment for Adult Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are treatable medical illnesses that are frequently found alongside other behavioral or mental health disorders, such as depression, substance abuse or anxiety. If a person doesn’t obtain treatment for an eating disorder, the symptoms can become life-threatening. Anorexia is associated with the highest fatality rate of any psychiatric disorder.2

Adult Eating Disorders

The goals of treating adult eating disorders include providing adequate nutrition, helping the person reach a healthy weight, decreasing excessive workouts and stopping the binging and purging cycles.

Psychotherapy is used to talk to clients about their emotions and behaviors to explore the root causes of their disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to modify the destructive behaviors of adult eating disorders and to encourage healthy, positive behaviors.

Research suggests that antidepressant medications may be effective in treating bulimia and the co-existing anxiety or depression seen with other adult eating disorders.

Medical care and monitoring are also important components of treating adult eating disorders. Individuals in treatment have issues with eating, whether it be undereating or overeating, and their bodies can develop health issues due to these risky eating patterns. Clinicians must monitor their medical conditions to ensure the negative impacts on physical health are minimized, as well as provide medical care for existing physical issues.

If you or someone you know is experiencing an adult eating disorder, it’s key to seek help as soon as possible to avoid serious complications. Hospitalization may be needed to treat problems caused by malnutrition or morbid obesity and to ensure proper nutrition. Once a person is stabilized, therapy and counseling can make complete recovery possible.