Eating disorders are usually associated with depressed, body-conscious teens, but now the average age that a woman develops an eating disorder has increased to late thirties and early forties. And forget anorexia and bulimia; now there’s a whole new list of late-onset eating disorders you’ve probably never even heard of.
What causes these problems for women in later life? Stress is one prime cause and it’s usually triggered by major life events such as having a baby, a messy divorce or bereavement. Women want to feel in control of their lives again. Often, this is achieved through controlling what they eat; rather than through a desire or a need to lose weight although dieting is still to blame in many cases.
So, here are the new nasties to be aware of. Forewarned is forearmed Cougars; if you think a friend or relative is showing signs of any of these late-onset eating disorders, sit her down and have a chat. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness; so always take them seriously. Whilst some of these new-wave eating disorders sound too strange to be for real, rest assured they are and because they are not widely known about they can go unnoticed and untreated.
Anorexia Athletica – Exercise Addiction
Gym or other exercise addiction is becoming a real issue amongst women of a certain age. Working out well beyond what’s needed to keep fit and healthy can damage relationships, jobs and health. Some women work out religiously to purge themselves of calories and become extremely stressed if they are unable to get their exercise fix. Rather than living a healthy lifestyle, they are at risk of damaging their mental wellbeing.
Orthorexia Nervosa – Health Food Fixation
Sufferers of this disorder will only eat organic or what they perceive to be ‘pure’ foods. Sometimes they will cut out entire food groups completely which leads to a dangerous imbalance in their diet. Ironically, one physical side effect of this condition is malnutrition. Obviously, eating organically grown produce and avoiding excessive amounts of sugar, salt and artificial additives in your diet is great for your health; living on lettuce alone is not.
Drunkorexia – Alcohol Not Food
This disorder involves crash dieting in order to conserve calories for booze intake and often leads to binge drinking. Sufferers often become malnourished and actually gain weight in addition to suffering other associated health problems as a result of excessive alcohol consumption. The days of the liquid lunch for city highflyers were left behind way back in the eighties but now it seems that they may be making a comeback, not helped by longer pub and bar opening hours.
Diabulimia – Insulin Rejection
Diabetes sufferers who skip insulin injections can lose weight rapidly. People with type 1 diabetes need daily insulin shots to facilitate insulin absorption but an alarming number of young women skip their injections in order to keep thin; despite the potentially fatal consequences.
Food Neophobia – Selective Eating
This condition is also known as Selective Eating Disorder (SED). Sufferers will only eat certain foods; toast is a common example. SED is thought to be associated with some childhood trauma and can be very dangerous if left untreated.
Pregorexia – Hungry Mummy
Sufferers of this condition exercise and diet to excess whilst pregnant to avoid weight gain. This is potentially extremely dangerous for both the mother and her unborn child and there have been a number of cases where babies have been miscarried as a result of over-strenuous exercise regimes.
Moderate exercise and a healthy, balanced diet are important for our wellbeing and so is a stress-free environment and happy home life. If you think someone you know might be suffering from any of these disorders, encourage them to seek medical help and to look at areas of their lives which might be the trigger for their problem. The value of a sympathetic ear can never be underestimated.
By Alison Page
Image: Darren Tunnicliff, Flickr Commons