“Ask the Expert” Series: The Changing Landscape of Eating Disorders

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Question: I’m 43 years old and have become very focused on my weight since getting a divorce. My friends think I have an eating disorder; I say I’m too old. Right?

Answer: Hear the phrase “eating disorder” and images of barely-there stick-thin models, size 0 celebrities and perfection-seeking adolescents come to mind. Young girls and women in their early 20’s who have fallen victim to the unrealistic ideals of our lookism society.

In the past, 90% of people who developed anorexia or bulimia were between the ages of 12-25, with the average onset occurring between 13-17 years of age. But today, that typical eating disorder landscape is changing.

Older individuals with “late-in-life” eating disorders are now being seen, especially amongst women. Mid-life stressors such as divorce, death of a parent or menopause can reignite old eating disordered tendencies or trigger a first time occurrence. Feelings of lack of control over an aging body can also contribute to the development of an eating disorder later in life.

Pre-tween children, as young as 6 years of age, are now being brought in for treatment by parents who report their children won’t eat because they “feel fat” or think they need to be “on a diet.” Heartbreakingly, the average age of onset has declined to 9-12 years of age.

And a growing number of young boys and men are stepping up to admit they have eating disordered behaviors and body-image concerns.

Quite simply, it is no longer accurate to assume that eating disorders affect only adolescent girls and young women. If you suspect you have an eating disorder, here are three key steps to take:

  1. Stop Dieting! Research consistently shows that dieting is a key factor in the development of all eating disorders.
  1. Focus on Internal vs. External Qualities. Identify non-appearance traits that you value about yourself, and compliment yourself often.
  1. Get Help. 75-90% of individuals who receive treatment achieve complete recovery.   However, only 1 out of 10 people seek help.

Thankfully, with proper treatment it is possible to fully recover. If you’re struggling, please get help and get healthy!

This article first appeared in The Arizona Republic and  AZCentral’s “Ask the Expert” in February, 2015.  Dr. Julie T. Anne’ is a licensed psychologist and eating disorder specialist.  She is the founder and clinical director of A New Beginning and the Co-Creator of TheHealthyWeighOut, an innovative Emotional Eating Weight loss Program located in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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