Margo Maine, PhD
Increasing numbers of adult women now suffer from clinical and subclinical eating disorders, despite prevailing beliefs that these conditions only affect the young. Misguided beliefs about who is at risk to develop eating disorders have created a bias shared by professionals as well as the public. As a result, many adults are not identified or helped and the costs in personal suffering and to the public health are staggering.
Traditionally, researchers found that women’s satisfaction with their bodies increased during the middle years as women shifted their focus from their body’s appearance to its function. However, recent studies find that 75% of American women, aged 25-45, report disordered eating and body image dissatisfaction, with 10% meeting criteria for clinical eating disorders, and 65 percent of midlife woman dissatisfied with their body and weight. Comparable levels of dieting and disordered eating are now found across young and elderly women, although moderate weight gain in midlife is associated with health and longevity
Contemporary women experience unprecedented attention to their bodies and appearance and relentless media images of bodies sculpted to perfection. The multiple role transitions and losses of adulthood also lead women to revert to focusing on the body as a misguided way to deal with aging and other life issues. The “war on obesity” and the misinformation promulgated by the diet industry intensify many women’s concerns about health at and beyond midlife, further contributing to restrictive dieting that may lead to full eating disorders.
This workshop summarizes the data available regarding the extent of eating disorders, body image distress, and disordered eating in adult women. While adults share many issues with younger patients, critical differences will be discussed. Case material, unique clinical issues, and implications for professional training, outreach, prevention, and policy will also be discussed.
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