I am seeing more and more women ages 30+ in my practise who are struggling with disordered eating. Many people think that eating disorders are only for teens and women in their twenties, but research shows this is absolutely false. In fact, the following statistics will most likely shock you.
I was lucky enough to attend a fabulous presentation recently called “The Weight-Bearing Years: Eating Disorders and Body Image Despair In Adult Women” given by Margo Maine, PhD, & Ann Kearney-Cook, PhD. Here are some very sobering statistics these two experts give on midlife women and eating disorders:
- In 2003, 1/3 of inpatient admissions to a specialized treatment center for eating disorders were over 30 years old.
- 43 million adult women in the United States are dieting to lose weight at any given time; another 26 million are dieting to maintain their weight.
- Body image dissatisfaction in midlife has increased dramatically, more than doubling from 25% in 1972 to 56% in 1997.
- A major research project found that more than 20% of the women aged 70 and older were dieting, even though higher weight poses a very low risk for death at that age, and weight loss may actually be harmful.
- When asked what bothered them most about their bodies, a group of women aged 61 to 92 identified weight as their greatest concern.
- A survey of Swiss women found: 70% of women aged 30-74 were dissatisfied with their weight despite being at a normal weight; 62% of women over the age of 65 wanted to lose weight; 31% of them had dieted recently although most (62%) were normal in weight.
- 60% of adult women have engaged in pathogenic weight control; 40% are restrained eaters; 40% are overeaters; only 20% are instinctive eaters; 50% say their eating is devoid of pleasure and causes them to feel guilty; 90% worry about their weight.
Why are women in midlife so prone to disordered eating? Maine and Kearny-Cook describe these women as “strangers in a strange land”; that today’s women are emotional and cultural “immigrants”. They explain that with unprecedented opportunities, comes unprecedented stress and that many of these women find comfort in the rituals of disordered eating, rigid dieting, exercise and other body rituals.
This makes total sense to me. For so many mid-life women, the times certainly are a changin’… and that can be very scary. As a midlife woman myself, I sometimes shrivel at the thought of all of the choices I have before me- so many more than were available to my mother when she was my age and even more than were available to my grandmother ahead of her. I often feel the pressure to be “superwoman”- to be, do, and have it all. While it’s great that I have the choice to do all of this, it also induces a lot of stress and pressure onto one person.
Questions many women I know ask themselves around this age include:
- Should I have children?
- If I have children, am I a good-enough mother?
- Should I be married?
- If I am married, am I with the right person?
- Do I want a career? If so, what would give me meaning and a means of supporting myself (and others)?
- If I have a career- do I like it? What else could I be doing? How do I move up the ladder?
- How do I manage a stressful career with raising a family?
- How can I move up in my career and also raise a family? Is that possible? Is that what I even want? Should I buy a house? Or if I own a house, can I pay the mortgage?
- Should I move? Am I (we) really happy here?
- How can I fit “me” time into my insanely busy schedule?
And the list goes on…
With all of these options comes a lot of worry and stress. I find that many women in midlife never feel satisfied or feel like they’re doing enough. I don’t hear many stories of satisfaction and being okay with whatever it is they do manage to cram into their hectic lives on a daily basis. It’s as if the world before us is open-ended with different possibilities at every turn. We often lack routine and structure, or if we have it because we have children and jobs, we crave freedom and different expansive possibilities.
No wonder so many of us find comfort in controlling one of the things we feel we have some control over- food and our weight. At least that’s how we often think of it initially until it becomes out-of-control and we end up with a serious eating disorder.
If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating subject, I recommend you get a copy of Margo Maine’s book called, “The Body Myth: Adult Women and the Pressure to be Perfect.”
And if you are a woman in midlife with an eating disorder, please call or e-mail me if you would like to see me for therapy to address this issue. I can be reached at: 778.265.6190 or by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.