Monday, August 19, 2013

Featured Article by Esther Kane: Eating Disorders in Midlife

Today, I am featuring an article written by Comox Valley Clinical Counselor Esther Kane.  Thanks Esther!

Featured Article: Eating Disorders in Midlife
Esther Kane
MSW, RSW, Registered Clinical Counselor
I am seeing more and more women ages 30+ in my practice who are struggling with disordered eating. Many people think that eating disorders are only for teens and women in their twenties, but research shows this is absolutely false. In fact, the following statistics will most likely shock you.

I was lucky enough to attend a fabulous presentation recently called “The Weight-Bearing Years: Eating Disorders and Body Image Despair
In Adult Women” given by Margo Maine, PhD, & Ann Kearney-Cook, PhD. Here are some very sobering statistics these two experts give on midlife women and eating disorders:

In 2003, 1/3 of inpatient admissions to a specialized treatment center for eating disorders were over 30 years old.
43 million adult women in the United States are dieting to lose weight at any given time; another 26 million are dieting to maintain their weight.
Body image dissatisfaction in midlife has increased dramatically, more than doubling from 25% in 1972 to 56% in 1997.
A major research project found that more than 20% of the women aged 70 and older were dieting, even though higher weight poses a very low risk for death at that age, and weight loss may actually be harmful.
When asked what bothered them most about their bodies, a group of
women aged 61 to 92 identified weight as their greatest concern.
A survey of Swiss women found: 70% of women aged 30-74 were dissatisfied with their weight despite being at a normal weight; 62% of women over the age of 65 wanted to lose weight; 31% of them had dieted recently although most (62%) were normal in weight.
60% of adult women have engaged in pathogenic weight control; 40% are
restrained eaters; 40% are over eaters; only 20% are instinctive eaters; 50% say their eating is devoid of pleasure and causes them to feel guilty;90% worry about their weight.

Why are women in midlife so prone to disordered eating? Maine and Kearny-Cook describe these women as “strangers in a strange land”; that today’s women are emotional and cultural “immigrants”. They explain that with unprecedented opportunities, comes unprecedented stress and that many of these women find comfort in the rituals of disordered eating, rigid dieting, exercise and other body rituals.

This makes total sense to me. For so many mid-life women, the times certainly are a changin’… and that can be very scary. As a midlife woman myself, I sometimes shrivel at the thought of all of the choices I have before me- so many more than were available to my mother when she was my age and even more than were available to my grandmother ahead of her. I often feel the pressure to be “superwoman”- to be, do, and have it all. While it’s great that I have the choice to do all of this, it also induces a lot of stress and pressure onto one person.

Questions many women I know ask themselves around this age include:

  • Should I have children?
  • If I have children, am I a good-enough mother?
  • Should I be married?
  • If I am married, am I with the right person?
  • Do I want a career? If so, what would give me meaning and a means of supporting myself (and others)?
  • If I have a career- do I like it? What else could I be doing? How do I move up the ladder?
  • How do I manage a stressful career with raising a family?
  • How can I move up in my career and also raise a family? Is that possible? Is that what I even want?
  • Should I buy a house? Or if I own a house, can I pay the mortgage? Should I move? Am I (we) really happy here?
  • How can I fit “me” time into my insanely busy schedule?

And the list goes on…

With all of these options comes a lot of worry and stress. I find that many women in midlife never feel satisfied or feel like they’re doing enough. I don’t hear many stories of satisfaction and being okay with whatever it is they do manage to cram into their hectic lives on a daily basis. It’s as if the world before us is open-ended with different possibilities at every turn. We often lack routine and structure, or if we have it because we have children and jobs, we crave freedom and different expansive possibilities.

No wonder so many of us find comfort in controlling one of the things we feel we have some control over- food and our weight. At least that’s how we often think of it initially until it becomes out-of-control and we end up with a serious eating disorder.

If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating subject, I recommend you get a copy of Margo Maine’s book called, “The Body Myth: Adult Women and the Pressure to be Perfect”. You can find it at:

To end, I’ll leave you with a few tips I give clients of mine who find themselves in this situation:
  • Remember, you are only one person and you don’t have to be superwoman. Let go of trying to be “perfect” and instead, opt for being “good enough”.
  • Tell yourself that when you feel ‘out of control’ it is most helpful to let go of gripping on too tightly and instead, practise ‘letting go’ and handing things over to the Universe.
  • Lastly, remind yourself that when you start obsessing over food and your body’s shape and size; it’s always about something else bubbling beneath the surface. When this happens, ask yourself, “What just happened that is leaving me feeling so out of control? What am I feeling? I’m going to let myself just feel it and then see what happens...

Esther Kane, MSW, RSW, Registered Clinical Counsellor, is in full-time private practice as a psychotherapist in Courtenay, B.C. Esther has over fifteen years of experience counselling women and their loved ones with a multitude of presenting problems. Her main focus is helping women to become free of barriers which keep them stuck so that they can become all that they dream of being.
To book a session or to set up a free 15-minute phone consultation call Esther at (250) 338-1800.
To learn more about Esther’s services, please visit her website:

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