Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Body image & ageing

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When we think about eating disorders, we normally associate such problems with teenagers and young adult women. However, there is now evidence that these conditions are becoming increasingly common in a new age group, women aged over 4o.

Previously, this group made up less than 5 percent of patients seeking treatment for anorexia. Now, this figure is reported to have increased to over 10 percent. Why? Various reasons are put forward, including images of actresses who continue to remain thin even as they age, but also the stressors commonly faced by women as they attain middle age. These might include the death of a parent, relationship breakup and children leaving home.

In a recent survey of 2000 women by UK health magazine Top Sante, most women reported being unhappy with their bodies, with half either having had or considering cosmetic surgery to correct perceived flaws.

Of particular concern is that many women admitted to turning to inappropriate means of controlling their weight and body shape. While more than 70% of women had made serious attempts to diet, 58% admitted to following "disordered" eating patterns, as characterised by skipping breakfast, having a snack for lunch or having wine and chocolate instead of a proper dinner. Strategies which allowed the women to have 'treats' while remaining maintaining weight control. A third also reported having used slimming pills or laxatives and fasting to keep weight down.

"This research has concluded what we always
suspected - that people of all ages are concerned
about issues with weight and shape. It's vitally
important to follow an appropriate diet and
to take exercise. Abusing slimming pills and
laxatives can have a dramatic effect on your health.

Eating disorders. Could you be at risk?


Anorexia also strikes middle-aged women
Anorexia Nervosia and Related Eating Disorders (ANRED)
Women over 40 hate their bodies


Dr. A said...

Good information. The stereotypical young person eating disorder is going away. I'm talking more and more about body image across all age groups now like your information suggests. It's easy to point the finger at the media and popular culture. But, there's probably more there that we have yet to learn.

healthpsych said...

Hi Dr. A.
Thanks for dropping by. Yes, as you say it's much more complex than media this particular group, life changes that happen around this time are also important and that's probably just scratching the surface. It would be good to see more research in this population.

The Little Student said...

Once again, very good post. I worked with a client just last year who was struggling with an eating disorder, which had an onset after her divorce. She was well past her youth. It was an excellent learning opportunity which reminded me that psychological problems aren't always what you read about or hear about on TV or in the books.

healthpsych said...

That's interesting, Caleb. All my exposure to eating disorders has been with a younger age group. Was there anything different in your approach?

jumpinginpuddles said...

I was in a group a while back and the topic came around to weight, these people were varying ages and all commented on the same thing iff they could have their life over again weight would be the priority, i was amazed, when asked why they said because i want to age gracefully and thinner.

Guess me answering ill be ungraceful and not so thin didnt go down to well ;)

fjl said...

I do all these things, but seem to stop before it gets silly. :-) I guess that's what the dull modicum of just turned forty is all about.

No doubt I am at risk, but h*ll, I'll have some better treatment from life before I blame myself for having no full quota of discipline atall ...

The Little Student said...

Healthpsych - While my supervisor was her primary therapist, I mostly focused on self-esteem and intrusive thoughts relating to her self worth. She was a very difficult client. Not only because of her atypical presentation, but because she was very resistant to therapy. Despite this, she did make some gains.

healthpsych said...

Hey JIP,
That's kind of sad that would be the priority! I'm with you on that one.

Hey FJL,
I have some pretty bad eating habits myself...but I guess it's a question of knowing where it becomes a problem!

Hey Caleb,
Sounds like an interesting experience. It's very rewarding to make gains when people are resistant!

Alison said...

Really great post, HP. I obviously make the mistake, like many I guess, of assuming this is an adolescent problem mainly. This may have something to do with only ever having seen it amongst teens. I wonder if there's a real silence around this issue as a result of the embarrassment.

healthpsych said...

Hi Alison,
Same here. I haven't really encountered in this age group. Possibly this age group is more skilled at hiding such behaviours?

NakedTomato said...

Hmm...Im so used to seeing and reading about EDs in a purely pediatric/adolescent context, I've never given much thought sufferers in other age groups. Eating disorders in adults is an important issue that needs to be discussed. Thanks for bringing it up!

Love the blog, linking you with mine!

Anonymous said...

After looking at a series of online dating services, I have come to the conclusion that only physically fit, well built men get divorced. LOL I think many women my age (56) become obsessed with weight because of the same pressures to look good (thin) as young people but ageing bodies make weight loss less noticeable to friends and families who otherwise might protest.