Eating Disorders Becoming More Prominent in Midlife Women

CBN.com - Eating disorders have become an emerging trend for midlife women, which leads to concern about the detrimental effects they can have on women’s health. Experts are calling this epidemic “runaway eating” and are promoting nutrition education and the adoption of a healthier, well-balanced diet.

While serious eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia have long been the bane of teenage girls, more and more midlife women are suffering from similar but milder forms of problematic eating. These problems include occasional bouts of out-of-control eating, weight preoccupation, pathological dieting, compulsive exercising, bingeing, and binge-and-purge episodes. Runaway eating is defined as the gray area that lies somewhere between healthy eating and an actual eating disorder.

Nadine Taylor, a registered dietitian and co-author of the book Runaway Eating (Rodale, 2005) says that midlife women are under incredible amounts of stress, and may fall into runaway eating behaviors as a way to make themselves feel better. “Runaway eating involves using food to run away from your problems,” Taylor says. “You feel depressed, so you head for the chocolate cake. You’re anxious, so you eat an entire box of cookies or push yourself through a long, exhausting workout. What you’re really doing is running from stress, anxiety, depression, or the feeling that you’re just not ‘perfect’ enough. But afterwards you can feel even worse, and turn to other unhealthy ways of easing emotional pain.”

The negative cycle of runaway eating can be set off or made worse by the hormonal changes of menopause. Female hormones fluctuate wildly during perimenopause, when estrogen levels often swing from too high to too low. Too much estrogen causes bloating, sugar cravings, and mood swings, making a woman feel fat, hungry, and depressed. Too little estrogen causes depression, anxiety, hot flashes, and night sweats, making her feel fatigued, irritable, and lacking in energy. Either extreme could set off a cycle of restrictive dieting, bingeing, purging—or all three—especially in women who are already stressed to the breaking point.


One way to balance estrogen levels and put the brakes on runaway eating, says Taylor, is to eat plenty of soy. While soy is known for easing hot flashes, it may also help ward off the mood swings, anxiety, and irritability associated with hormonal changes that can trigger runaway eating.

Taylor explains, “Soy can compete with your own estrogen for receptor sites on the cells, blocking out some of your own hormone and lowering estrogen levels.”

Soy may also help fight runaway eating in other ways: Studies have shown that it decreases hunger, extends the period of feeling “full,” and stabilizes the blood sugar. Taylor notes that “Stabilizing your blood sugar can go a long way toward stabilizing your mood. And if you feel good, you’re much less likely to turn to food-related behaviors to try to regain your balance.”

Taylor advises a daily intake of about 100-160 milligrams of soy isoflavones—about what you’d find in 6 glasses of soy milk or 6 servings of tofu—and between 20 and 25 grams of soy protein. Those who can’t handle that much soy every day (not to mention the 24 grams of fat that may come along with it) could get the same benefits from a soy shake or soy bar by Revival® Soy. Each soy shake or soy bar provides 16-20 grams of high-quality soy protein in one serving and less than 10 grams of fat.

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