When menopause and eating disorders collide, help is now available

Monash University

A new online resource developed by Monash University researchers will help women navigate eating disorders during perimenopause and menopause, when symptoms can become both distressing and hard to tell apart.

Senior clinical psychologist and eating disorders expert Associate Professor Gemma Sharp, from the School of Translational Medicine, led the resource’s development, in collaboration with Eating Disorders Victoria (EDV) and Professor Susan Davis, whose research focuses on sex hormones across the life span.

“The hormonal fluctuations of menopause can trigger or intensify symptoms, and some women are experiencing their eating disorder flare up for the first time in decades,” Associate Professor Sharp said. “Yet women face great uncertainty from health professionals over what’s causing their symptoms, and this affects their ability to manage them.”

The team co-designed the resource, in the form of a short course, with women around Australia ranging in age from their 30s, experiencing early menopause or perimenopause, to their 60s, and post menopause.

The resource, now available on the EDV website, is aimed at women experiencing eating disorders, those supporting a loved one through the menopausal transition, and health professionals. It includes information and videos that feature women describing their experiences in the health system. Associate Professor Sharp said many women felt dismissed when new symptoms were quickly attributed to their historic eating disorder. “GPs need information to help meet the challenges of identifying and managing eating disorder fluctuations during the menopausal transition, especially as existing resources on eating disorders generally focus on treating teenagers and young adults,” she said.

“We had several women say they had never heard of perimenopause, so this is also a much-needed resource to help empower women more effectively self-advocate.”

Professor Davis said it could be challenging for women with an eating disorder, who had irregular or no menstrual cycles, to know whether or not she had started the menopause transition.

“While we usually recommend against hormone testing to determine the onset of the menopause, hormone testing can be very helpful for women with eating disorders,” she said.

Find the Eating Disorders and Menopause Short Course at Eating Disorders Victoria’s e-learning hub.

Following on from this pioneering co-designed resource, Associate Professor Sharp and her team are launching the international Consortium for Research in Eating Disorders (CoRe-ED), which will bring together key voices in eating disorders research to improve treatment and care globally.

/Public Release.