When it comes to menopause, a lot of changes can take place for women. Among these changes, some have drawn attention more than others, and now a lot of thought has been brought forward on whether or not menopause can cause eating disorders. Some experts say that the hormonal changes that come with menopause can lead to disordered eating, while others claim that there is no scientific evidence to support this theory. Here, we take a closer look at the relationship between menopause and eating disorders and try to find an answer to the question once and for all.
What Is an Eating Disorder
Though it has a dietary impact, an eating disorder is in fact considered a mental disorder which is characterized by abnormal eating habits that can negatively affect a person’s physical and mental health. Some of the most common and well-known eating disorders include anorexia, nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. These disorders are often associated with distressing thoughts and emotions, poor mental health, and sometimes related to body dissatisfaction.
Menopause and Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are complex conditions that could have various physical and psychological effects. So why is it common among women in midlife? Some experts believe that hormonal changes associated with menopause may play a role in developing some sort of eating disorder. If left untreated, these disorders can be cause for concern and even a risk factor for overall health.
When further researched, findings have determined that eating disorders tend to peak during “critical or sensitive” periods of reproductive hormone change, typically peaking in onset during puberty, but these disorders are not exempt to the hormonal shifts which take place during menopause, since menopause is sort of like puberty-in-reverse. The common menopausal changes in women’s estrogen levels can, thus, make women more vulnerable to eating disorders from the onset of perimenopause through the menopause stage of life.
Additional research conducted a series of year-long observations and found that postmenopausal women were significantly associated with more orthorexia nervosa tendencies, also known as tendencies of having an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating, than among premenopausal women. Furthermore, women in the perimenopause stage were found to have higher associations with binge eating and less orthorexia nervosa than premenopausal woman.
The study also found that higher body dissatisfaction was significantly associated with higher restrained eating, binge eating, and orthorexia nervosa.
In simplistic terms, there is no one particular cause of eating disorders. Rather, it can result from biological, psychological, and social factors. Hormonal changes associated with menopause can be one influencing factor that can play a role in developing eating disorders, as can the emotional toll that hormonal and bodily changes can take on the women during this stage of life. In fact, one study found that women who experienced early menopause were more likely to develop disorders of anorexia than those who experienced menopause at a later age.
While hormonal changes are a viable cause for eating disorder onset among women in midlife, the full scale of onset contributions is not fully understood. However, many believe that the hormonal changes associated with menopause may be the main factor. Additionally, many conclude that in addition to hormonal changes which may trigger the onset, common drastic changes that women often experience in midlife, such as retirement or empty nest syndrome, can also be stressful enough to lead to disordered eating.
Additionally, many women may feel shy or ashamed to be struggling with a condition that many associate with an “adolescent phase” and may believe that they know well enough to get past struggle, or they should ignore it, and as a result, they may decide not to seek medical treatment.
Common Symptoms of Eating Disorders
While no two disorders are alike, in general eating disorders can cause a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms for a disorder can include the following:
- Physical Symptoms: these include weight loss or gain, fatigue, gastrointestinal and digestive problems, and amenorrhea or loss of menstruation when menopause is not a factor.
- Psychological Symptoms: in addition to the physical effects an eating disorder can have, the psychological can, at time, be even more damaging. These include food and body image preoccupation, distorted body image, low self-esteem, anxiety, and obsession over nutrition or food intake. Psychological symptoms can also lead to social isolation and difficulty functioning at work or school.
If these symptoms resonate, it is important to seek guidance from a doctor, dietary nutritionist or mental health professional to find a healthy approach to nutrition that can help balance any mental health concerns or eating disorders that may be present.
Treating Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are complex conditions that typically require treatment or assistance from a mental health professional or team. Treatment can typically include a combination of psychotherapy or counseling, medication, and nutrition counselling. Depending on the severity of the situation, in some cases, hospitalization may be necessary and more drastic treatment approaches may be discussed to help cut habits and adopt healthy approaches.
For additional tips on how to Balance Hormones with an Estrogen-Rich Diet, click here.
While society can send mixed messages, like ads pushing unhealthy dietary choices for comfort and happiness, while inundating you with images of beautiful women attaining the “perfect body,” the key is to find proper support who can help reaffirm healthy dietary approaches and self-confidence in yourself.
Overall, while the studies and research do indicate a correlation between menopausal shifts and risk factors that can lead to eating disorders, it’s crucial to note that they do not prove that menopause is, in fact, a direct cause in all cases. Rather, it simply showed that there is a correlation between the two.
These results help serve as a first step towards spreading awareness among women within this age group and provide healthcare professionals enough information to provide additional screening for the presence of disordered eating during women’s routine exams.
Knowing this, it can be important to be aware of conscious or second-hand habits that may begin to change and identify the cause of the change. Likewise, if you are concerned about the risk of developing an eating disorder, or are concerned with current dietary or psychological symptoms or changes, it may be worth your while to consult your doctor about the topic.