"The older women tend to mother the younger women and take care of the younger women in the group rather than taking care of themselves," Grishkat said. "The other thing we've noticed, the older women have a tendency to sit back and not say anything because they're ashamed. They feel like they should be the role models for the younger women."
What drives someone in midlife to seek help for an eating disorder varies. For Smela, who was 46 at the time she first went to the Renfrew Center, it was her reflection, she said.
"The summer before I went for treatment, I started catching glimpses of myself in a mirror or reflection, and I was scared," she said. "I saw my body as a whole, and it scared me."
But no matter what age they are, people who feel they have an eating disorder need to seek help, Grishkat and Tyson said. Talk to a doctor, contact the Renfrew Center or similar facility or reach out to the National Eating Disorders Association, the two experts suggested.
Treatment is particularly vital if the person has children, even if treatment will temporarily take them away from their responsibilities at home, Tyson said.
"Having an eating disorder makes their children have a 12- to 15-fold greater risk of having an eating disorder," he said. "They need to do the work and get better, or their children could be at risk."
The National Eating Disorders Association has more on eating disorders.
SOURCES: Ed Tyson, M.D., Austin, Texas; Holly Grishkat, Ph.D., senior director, clinical operations, northeast region, Renfrew Center; Alison Smela, Chicago; Diane Butrym, Schenectady, N.Y.
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