Eating disorders have been widely associated with teenage girls and young women. But a recent study done by the International Journal of Eating Disorders shows that the problem transcends all ages. In fact, eating disorders are on the rise for women 50 an older.
Researchers surveyed more some 1800 women over age 50. More than 50 percent of those women reporter using diet pill, laxatives, diuretics, vomiting, and excessive exercise.
"30 years ago I recovered from an eating disorder. I was bulimic in my 20's," said Elizabeth McMurray.
She knows what it means to struggle with food.
"I made up my mind that when I went into psychology I was going to somehow contribute to the field and help other women to get through this," she said.
McMurray, now the clinical director at A Center for Eating Disorders in Birmingham, is sticking to her promise. Now in her fifties, she's noticed a growing trend.
Not only is she helping younger people with eating disorders, but she's counseling many of her own age as well.
"My generation, the baby boomer generation at some point began to believe we were invincible. As we grow older, there is tremendous pressure from the media," said McMurray.
The svelte bodies in magazines, the no-holds-barred reality shows that glorify botox and implants. It all contributes, says mcmurray, to the growing number of women 50 and older with eating disorders. In fact, she recently treated a woman in her 70's.
"There is often divorce in middle age or older. Empty nest. A husband divorces wife and married younger woman. Something is triggered there," she said.
That's why the center takes a comprehensive approach to treatment.
"We try to come at it from all different angles because no one person is the same," she said.
The center has a nurse, medical doctor, psychiatrist, and full time dietitian who works to create individualized plans and friendly a cooking environment.
"We want it to be like a home to them and comfortable because a lot of our clients come in with a fear of the kitchen and food, having to prepare it and see it. They may recognize some foods as their fear foods or safe foods. So we try to make all foods inviting and fun," said Amy Campbell, the registered dietitian.
The center also has a number therapists who help facilitate projects.
"It's more about what's on the inside. And then on the outside they will collage superficial things," said McMurray.
Mcmurray says it's difficult level of treatment for people of all ages.
"There is an inability to find an identity in a younger person. Or a loss of identity in an older person," she said.
The bottom line, says McMurray, is it's never hopeless. Never too late to recover. She knows this first hand.
"It took a long time. It was about eight years of struggling. That's why it's so important reconnect with a sense of self," she said.
McMurray says that sense of self may be found by taking time to think about what you used to enjoy, and get back to that.