When Margaret Bradley started worrying about the extra kilos she might put on at Christmas, she decided to take care of any holiday weight-gain ahead of time, by reducing her calorie intake in the lead up to the festive season. Her rationale was simple: she would diet now, so that she could feast without fear later.
But as the kilos began to melt away, Margaret found herself anxious that the weight was not coming off quickly enough. She further reduced her calorie intake and began hiding her restrictive-eating habits from her family, often pretending to have eaten earlier in the day.
When Christmas came and went, Margaret’s restrictive dieting only continued. Before long, she found herself in the grips of a devastating eating disorder.
Like so many others who have walked a similar path, Margaret’s journey with anorexia is an all too familiar one: a person starts dieting for a concise and well understood set of reasons, but then the behaviour takes hold, and continues to accelerate for a completely different, and much more complex (and poorly understood) set of reasons.
However what some readers may find surprising about Margaret’s experience, is the age at which she first developed anorexia: Margaret was 54-years old.
Indeed while anorexia and other eating disorders continue to be depicted as illnesses which primarily impact upon teen girls and young women (particularly those who are white and middle class), research now shows that eating disorders are common in many other populations, although they often go undetected, especially if the people they afflict do not meet with the unhelpful, conventional stereotype of the image-conscious teen girl.
Read more: Donna Hay: Paleo diets and quitting sugar are ‘just a new eating disorder’
According to Cynthia Bulik, author of Midlife Eating Disorders, stereotypes which focus on teen girls tend to skew the public perception of who is at risk, and may present an overly simplistic, trivialised view of the causes of eating disorders (especially since teen girls motives are already routinely simplified down to fit uncomplicated narratives about their lives).
Not only do these stereotypes alienate many individuals who suffer from eating disorders, but they also confuse the public understanding of the issue, causing some sufferers and their families to overlook symptoms and common triggers associated with eating disorders (such as a pronounced personal trauma or a loss of control over a significant aspect of one’s life).