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Rate of Eating Disorders Rising Among Middle-Aged Women

The obsessive desire to be thin doesn't just affect teenagers and younger women.

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By John Lavitt

06/20/14

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An online survey funded by the National Center For Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and reported on by the National Eating Disorders Association revealed that there is no age limit when it comes to eating disorders.

According to survey data, obvious eating disorder symptoms were reported by 13% of middle-aged women, while 70% admitted they were attempting to lose weight. A Kansas State University study revealed intense body image dissatisfaction by over 20% of middle-aged women in the United States.

In treatment centers across the U.S. like the Renfrew Clinic, experts have been seeing an increasing number of women over forty battling eating disorders. Like others, these women are starving themselves, abusing laxatives, and exercising to dangerous extremes. Despite the similarities with other age groups, experts were still surprised to see middle-aged women engaging in self-destructive weight loss activities that largely have been thought to be the arena of teenage girls and young women.

With the pressure to be thin, the health effects of eating disorders in older women have become a high concern. As the human body becomes less resilient with age, older women are less likely to bounce back from an eating disorder. The threat of gastrointestinal, cardiac, bone, and even dental side effects intensifies as women mature. Such health consequences also have a profoundly negative impact on family structures.

A perfect example of how eating disorders affect older women in a family environment was described in a New York Times article. After turning 40, Margie Hodgin, a nurse in North Carolina, finally took off those extra pounds and was delighted by her success. However, her victory quickly turned into an eating disorder. Hodgin refused to eat more than 200 calories a meal and often made herself vomit. Her behavior intensified as she began surfing pro-Anorexia websites and masking her negative behaviors.

Luckily, Hodgin embraced treatment when it was offered to her by her family. Unlike teenagers, who often must be coerced into treatment, older women tend to accept the opportunity of their own accord; one of the greatest motivators for changing habits was having a teenager, since a mother fears their eating disorder will be passed on to their children.

In the New York Times article, Hodgin credits family therapy as the key to her recovery. She explained how bringing her husband to therapy sessions “made me realize how much I was breaking him down…I’ve been able to see the damage I left in the wake of it," Hodgin said. "You can’t have an eating disorder and think it doesn’t affect your family.”

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