Junkfood Science: A husband’s heartbreak

December 21, 2006

A husband’s heartbreak

Sometimes those hurting the most from eating disorders are loved ones. The anguish in this husband’s blog post is hard to read. But it is important to read, just as is young Polly’s letter he shared in Along Came Polly.

With eating disorders, we most often think of young women who begin dieting typically in response to concerns over the natural weight gain that comes with growing up or their attempts to meet the unrealistically thin bodies they’ve come to believe are ideal. But eating disorders are also not uncommon among middle-age and older women and men. Many adult women have suffered from eating disorders for a decade or more.

The largest study on body image and eating disorders, published in Psychology Today, reported that even among “normal” weight women 30 to 74 years of age, 70% were unhappy with their weight; and that dissatisfaction with one’s body increases as women age.

Dr. Katherine Zerbe, M.D., at the psychiatry department of Oregon Health and Science University in Portland and author of The Body Betrayed, said that up to age 60, most women naturally gain 5-10 pounds per decade of life, usually accompanying developmental milestones such as puberty, pregnancy and menopause.

As their bodies undergo the normal changes that accompany aging or they develop concerns about their health, women can also find themselves confronting unrealistic expectations of thin, youthful bodies and begin dieting and exercising to extremes.dissatisfaction is

In November’s issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders, Austrian researchers reported that among a random sample of 1,000 women in their 60s, more than 80% were controlling their weight, 90% said they felt fat and over 60% said they were unhappy with their bodies. Especially worrisome was that 4% met the diagnosis for eating disorders.

According to Dr. David Garner, Ph.D., director of River Centre Clinic in Sylvania, Ohio, and adjunct professor at Bowling Green State University and the University of Toledo, one of the most important advancements in the understanding of eating disorders is the recognition that it is severe and prolonged dietary restrictions that can lead to eating disorders and serious physical and psychological complications. As his research, and Ancel Key’s original starvation studies, has shown, hunger results in a host of symptoms — eating behaviors, physical and emotional changes, and social function — that are identical to those seen in eating disorders. According to Dr. Garner, many patients don’t understand that hunger and semistarvation explains many of the symptoms they are experiencing. He says they can be helped and be less likely to persist in blaming themselves, continue self-defeating dieting, and feeling defensive, if they are “made truly aware of the scientific evidence.”

The body of research has shown that restrained eating and dieting significantly precipitate eating disorders. It makes today’s “healthy eating” advice — to watch what we eat, control our portions, count calories, follow serving guidelines, eat more “good” foods, and eat less foods deemed “bad” for us — risky and unhelpful for the vast majority of the population already feeling their bodies are unsatisfactory.

Bookmark and Share