First, the bad news. Eating disorders in midlife are on the rise.
“In her new book, Midlife Eating Disorders, Bulik reveals a hidden problem: the most common profile of someone suffering from an eating disorder is a woman or man in their 30s or 40s. Bulik believes that in the medical field, typecasting eating disorders as a teen issue poses a risk for adults seeking care. Due to this typecasting, primary care physicians, obstetricians and gynaecologists and other health care providers can overlook these disorders in adults. Countless people in mid-life from all ethnic backgrounds struggle with eating disorders, Bulik says. Some have suffered with a chronic eating disorder for their whole lives, others relapse mid-life. Some are experiencing an eating disorder for the first time.Common to all these groups are particular stressors often associated with events that occur mid-life: infidelity, divorce, parenting or the death of a loved-one are key triggers.
Bulik says a common scenario is when someone gets divorced and they view themselves as being ‘back on the market’.‘They go to extreme measures to change their physical appearance—usually an extreme diet. And that might be their first step down that slippery slope to an eating disorder’.Financial hardship can also trigger an eating disorder, as can the stress that often comes with retirement, illness, surgery or unemployment.Bulik also believes a ‘culture of discontent’ is a major cause of adult eating disorders—reinforced by the fashion, cosmetic, pharmaceutical and diet industries.‘What they do is plant worms of discontent in your mind—that you should be unhappy with your physical appearance, you should be unhappy with the process of ageing … then they sell you this product or present you with this surgery that somehow is going to miraculously remove that discontent. They make you feel badly about yourself and then they sell you something to make you feel better. And the problem is that engaging in some of those extreme behaviours can be the first step toward an eating disorder.'”
Second, some slightly better news. Active women are more likely than inactive women to be happy with their bodies, even at the same size. See Few Middle-Aged Women Are Happy With Their Body Size: The ones most likely to be are highly active.
“A study of 1,789 women, age 50 and older, found that only 12.2% of the women said they were satisfied with their body size. Body satisfaction was defined as having a body size equal to their preferred body size.
Body satisfaction reflected considerable effort by the women to achieve and maintain rather than passive contentment, according to study authors. Satisfied women had lower BMI and exercised more than dissatisfied women, while weight monitoring and appearance-altering behaviors, such as cosmetic surgery, did not differ between the two groups.
Satisfaction with body size, however, did not mean that these women were totally satisfied with their appearance. Many reported that they were dissatisfied with other aspects of how they look, including their stomach (56.2%), face (53.8%), and skin (78.8%).”
See our other thoughts on menopause and bodies: