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Anorexia Nervosa Health Center

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Anorexia Is Hitting Older Women

Even women losing pregnancy weight can develop anorexia, if they are perfectionists.

Could It Be Genetic?

Numerous studies during the last decade have suggested that genetics plays a role, Kaye tells WebMD. "Eating disorders are known to run in families. Studies show that identical twins are more likely than [fraternal] twins to have eating disorders."

The genetic predisposition likely creates certain personality traits -- tendency toward anxiety, obsession, perfectionism -- that make some people particularly susceptible to eating disorders," he explains. "A genetic link just makes sense, since lots of people in this society diet but relatively few people end up with an eating disorder."

The important issue: "These can be dangerous disorders, people can die from them," says Kaye. "Getting people to a doctor is very important."

That's not always easy, since many women with eating disorders don't see themselves as having a problem, he says. "That can cause tension and a difficulty that is not easily resolved. You can force a 14-year-old girl to get treatment, but that's very hard with a 60-year-old woman. It often becomes a struggle because the family is very concerned. Some kind of confrontation may be necessary."

When should you be concerned? "When someone has a drastic change in body size, that should be clue," says Herzog. Other signs include:

  • A dramatic change in eating patterns
  • Declining invitations to dine socially
  • Often leaving the table for the bathroom
  • Severe change in mood

Just remember: While certain diets may seem "extreme" -- such as raw food or vegetarian diets -- they are generally not life-threatening, says Herzog. "Also, some women are genetically very thin, have a higher metabolism, and they won't gain when others might. Not everyone has the same metabolism."

Kaye encourages women to contact him if they believe they may qualify for his study of anorexia.

Published July 13, 2004.

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