More than 10 million Americans suffer from anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders. And while people tend to think such problems are limited to adolescence and young adulthood, Judith Shaw knows otherwise. A 58-year-old yoga instructor in St. Louis, Ms. Shaw says she was nearing 40 when she decided to “get healthy” after having children. Soon, diet and exercise became an obsession.
“I was looking for something to validate myself,” she told me. “Somehow, the weight loss, and getting harder and firmer and trimmer and fitter, and then getting recognized for that, was fulfilling a need.” Experts say that while eating disorders are first diagnosed mainly in young people, more and more women are showing up at their clinics in midlife or even older. Some had eating disorders early in life and have relapsed, but a significant minority first develop symptoms in middle age. (Women with such disorders outnumber men by 10 to 1.) Cynthia M. Bulik, director of the Eating Disorders Program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, says that though it was initially aimed at adolescents, since 2003 half of its patients have been adults.
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