When one thinks of an eating disorder the image of a teenage girl is what normally comes to mind. Usually we think of a girl with an eating disorder as someone who is a high achiever, from an affluent background, and dealing with high expectations from others at school and at home.
It's true that most cases of eating disorders, especially anorexia, occur among that demographic. However in recent years, eating disorders have been affecting individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds.
One of the groups with the most alarming rates of eating disorders are middle aged adult women. This is due in large part to the fact that eating disorders can occur throughout a person's lifespan. Women in their 30's, 40's and 50's are starving themselves, binging and purging, obsessively exercising, and using other harmful methods to lose weight. These adult women fall into one of three categories:
-Individuals who have had an eating disorder for most of their life but have never received treatment.
-Individuals who received treatment for an eating disorder in their younger years.
-Individuals who developed an eating disorder later in life.
There are also a number of risk factors for adult women that tend to play a big part in the development of an eating disorder like anorexia. In addition to the media, genetic predisposition, experiencing trauma, a tendency toward perfectionism, and attempts at dieting, these risk factors can trigger the sudden development or reappearance of an eating disorder in an adult female.
Going through a divorce or separation - This is a difficult time in many ways and affects all parties. For women especially, there may be overwhelming anxiety about spending the rest of their adult life without a partner. Dating after years or even decades of marriage is especially stressful. A women may worry about her looks and feel insecure about her weight. She may begin dieting or exercising in extreme, and eventually turn to harmful methods to keep her weight down and maintain a sense of control.
Facing the process of aging - Aging is difficult in a culture that places so much importance on youth. Some adult women become obsessed with maintaining a youthful look through plastic surgery, dieting, exercise, and other methods.
Oftentimes a woman will become convinced that she must maintain the weight she had as a young woman, something that is actually impossible to do in a healthy way. In these cases, she may begin engaging in dangerous behaviors such as self starvation, taking diet pills or laxatives, or becoming addicted to exercise.
Empty nest syndrome - For many adult women who are mothers, having their children move out of the home can be a rough transition. A woman whose identity and purpose centered around being a mother will have an especially difficult time with this transition.
Feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, and restlessness can be quite common. Filling the empty space that mothering and children once occupied becomes the next challenge. An adult woman often becomes preoccupied with looks, weight loss, and health instead.
Death of a parent - The illness or passing of a parent has profound effects on an adult woman's life. A sudden death will especially be difficult to handle, as feelings of grief, shock, and sadness become overwhelming. Managing these emotions while continuing to meet life's responsibilities can prove to be too much for many. Many adult women who are at risk develop an eating disorder to create a sense of control.
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