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Eating disorders can develop at any age, including perimenopause

A new study in Menopause found body dissatisfaction to be a primary cause of eating disorders, especially during perimenopause.

Eating disorder prevention efforts are typically targeted to teens and adolescents, but new research suggests women of all ages are susceptible, including those in menopause.

A new study in Menopause found body dissatisfaction to be a primary cause of eating disorders, especially during perimenopause.1

According to the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), the prevalence of any eating disorder specially for women older than 40 years is about 3.5%, and specific symptoms like dissatisfaction with eating patterns is as high as 29.3%.2

Eating disorders can lead to serious deficiencies and other health concerns, which can then reveal their full effects later in life. The new study, unlike previous research, included participants at midlife, including pre-menopause, perimenopause, and post-menopause.

Growing evidence suggests that perimenopausal women have the highest rates of dysregulated eating behaviors—including counting calories, restriction, diet pill use, skipping meals, and excessive physical exertion—of any reproductive stage and are vastly different from premenopausal women who express body dissatisfaction.

Findings like these remain few and far between, but they confirm that perimenopause may be an especially risky time for developing eating disorders.

In this study, researchers wanted to investigate the structure of eating disorder symptoms specifically during perimenopause and early post-menopause. They included 36 paticipants aged 45 to 61 years from a larger clinical trial who had completed the Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire at a baseline study visit.

Upon their evaluation, researchers found that shape and weight dissatisfaction were the 2 most central symptoms of the questionnaire answers. Their findings, they concluded, reiterate the idea that dissatisfaction with body image is a core feature of eating disorder pathology across a woman’s lifespan, from adolescence to post-menopause.1

“This study shows that, similar to studies in young adults, dissatisfaction with body image remains a core feature of eating disorder pathology in midlife women. Specifically, fear of gaining weight and fear of losing control over eating habits are central symptoms of eating disorders in perimenopause and early postmenopause. These findings may help direct more targeted treatment strategies in women during midlife,” said Stephanie Faubion, medical director of NAMS.

References

  1. Network analysis of eating disorder symptoms in women in... : Menopause. LWW. Published online 2023. doi:10.1097/GME.0000000000002141
  2. North American Menopause Society. Body Dissatisfaction Can Lead to Eating Disorders at Any Age. Published January 18, 2023. Accessed January 18, 2023‌. https://www.menopause.org/docs/default-source/press-release/eating-disorder-symptoms-peri-and-postmenopause.pdf