Our cultural obsession with achieving the "perfect body" isn’t limited to the teenage years

By Natasha Persaud

Body dissatisfaction is common, especially if you're a middle-age woman. Pounds creep on and become harder to lose; dimply cellulite appears. Looking in the mirror causes upset more often than self-acceptance. Unfortunately, America's cultural drive for thinness is now stealing a woman’s health and happiness into her latter years.

Weight Scale Image - Masterfile

Among women over age 50 surveyed online, a notable 3.5 percent report binge eating and nearly 8 percent report purging, according to a study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders. Between one and eight percent of women endorsed at least one extreme weight loss behavior: vomiting, taking laxatives, diuretic use, taking diet pills or excessive exercise. Women in their early 50s were most likely to engage in these behaviors, but even women over age 75 reported them.

Many middle-age and senior women—a full seventy-one percent of the 1,849 women surveyed—were trying to lose weight in general. More than a third reported dieting at least half of the time over the past 5 years. Just over half of women were overweight or obese.

Body Image Blues in Midlife: What's Going On?

According to background information in the study, an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating may persist from younger years; a relapse may occur; or disordered eating may happen for the first time at midlife.

Looking "Bad," Feeling Worse

For many, the silver and golden years have lost their luster. Nearly two in three women claimed that their weight or shape negatively impacted their quality of life. Weight attitudes injured their self-esteem too: Four in five reported that their weight or body shape played a very important role in how they perceive themselves.

"We know very little about how women aged 50 and above feel about their bodies," says Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D., a study author and director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, according to a news release. "An unfortunate assumption is that they 'grow out of' body dissatisfaction and eating disorders, but no one has really bothered to ask."

Recognize the Signs of Disordered Eating

The health consequences of bingeing, purging and other forms of disordered eating can be serious and even life-threatening. It can lead to heart and kidney problems and more.

Take a minute, and ask yourself if you or someone you know has signs of an eating disorder. Respond to these questions from the National Eating Disorders Association:

  • Do you constantly calculate numbers of fat grams and calories?
  • Do you weigh yourself often and find yourself obsessed with the number on the scale?
  • Do you exercise to burn off calories—and not for health and enjoyment?
  • Do you ever feel out of control when you are eating?
  • Do your eating patterns include extreme dieting, preferences for certain foods, withdrawn or ritualized behavior at mealtime or secretive bingeing?
  • Has weight loss, dieting, and/or control of food become one of your major concerns?
  • Do you feel ashamed, disgusted or guilty after eating?
  • Do you constantly worry about the weight, shape or size of your body?
  • Do you feel like your identity and value is based on how you look or how much you weigh?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you could be dealing with disordered eating. These attitudes and behaviors about weight can take a toll on your mental, emotional and physical well-being.

It is important that you start to talk about your eating habits and concerns with a doctor or health professional. With treatment, there is help.

Sources:

Gagne, et al. “Eating Disorder Symptoms and Weight and Shape Concerns in a Large Web-Based Convenience Sample of Women Ages 50 and Above: Results of the Gender and Body Image (GABI) Study,” International Journal of Eating Disorders, published online May 2012.

National Eating Disorders Association

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 19 Jul 2012

Last Modified: 14 Sep 2015