Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Understanding Body Image Dissatisfaction and Disordered Eating in Midlife Adults

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Understanding Body Image Dissatisfaction and Disordered Eating in Midlife Adults

Article excerpt

Researchers have documented a marked increase in body image dissatisfaction over recent times for Western women and men of all ages, which is a concerning public health issue given links between body image problems and psychological problems including low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression (Hay, Mond, Buttner, & Darby, 2008; Jackson et al., 2014; Keel, Baxter, Heatherton, & Joiner, 2007; Midlarsky & Nitzburg, 2008; Tiggemann, 2004). Body image dissatisfaction is defined as the negative perceptions and feelings a person has about their body and is influenced by factors such as body shape and appearance, attitudes towards weight gain, and cultural norms in relation to an ideal body (Peat, Peyerl, & Muehlenkamp, 2008; Phillips & de Man, 2010; Slade, 1994; Slevec & Tiggemann, 2011a).

Body image dissatisfaction is also strongly associated with, and is often considered a predicting and maintaining factor of, disordered eating (Fairburn, Cooper, & Shafran, 2003; Midlarsky & Nitzburg, 2008; Stice, Marti, & Durant, 2011; Tiggemann, 2004). Disordered eating has been defined as encompassing a wide range of eating behaviours, including dieting, which is normally considered low-risk, through to severe food restriction, binge eating and purging, which can be considered clinical or sub-clinical depending on other related behaviours (American Psychiatric Association, 2013; Slevec & Tiggemann, 2011b; Williamson, 1999). In the present study, disordered eating refers to low-risk behaviours, such as dieting, which can lead to the insufficient intake of nutrients required by the body and/or marked weight loss or gain (Pereira & Alvarenga, 2007; Slevec & Tiggemann, 2011b). It also includes negative attitudes towards food, such as the use of 'good' and 'bad' labels for food, inflexible eating patterns and disproportionate daily thoughts about eating, food preparation, and food digestion (Pereira & Alvarenga, 2007).

The co-existence of body image dissatisfaction and disordered eating concerns has been well documented, particularly for young women aged between mid-adolescence and mid-to-late twenties living in Western cultures (Ferraro et al., 2008; Peat et al., 2008; Pereira & Alvarenga, 2007; Slevec & Tiggemann, 2011b; Tiggemann, 2004). In fact, such is the pervasiveness of body image dissatisfaction in young Western women that it has even been termed a "normative" phenomenon (Rodin, Silberstein, & Striegel-Moore, 1984). For this reason, the majority of research on body image dissatisfaction and disordered eating has focused on young women (Brandsma, 2007; Ferraro et al., 2008; Peat et al., 2008; Pruis & Janowsky, 2010; Slevec & Tiggemann, 2011b; Tiggemann, 2004; Tiggemann & Lynch, 2001). Similarly, the vast majority of the more limited amount of research on men also only applies to young adult men (McCabe & Ricciardelli, 2004).

However, concerns with body shape and weight apply to a broader age range than the research focus might suggest (Tiggemann, 2004). For example, 71% of a sample of 1,053 women in Switzerland aged 30 to 74 years reported wanting to be thinner even though 73% were of a normal weight (Allaz, Bernstein, Rouget, Archinard, & Morabia, 1998). A better understanding of these issues in midlife (30-60 years of age) is needed in order to identify whether there are research and treatment needs that go beyond the current focus on young women and men with body image and eating problems.

Midlife women

A review of the existing literature on body image dissatisfaction and disordered eating in midlife women reveals several key points. First, like young women, many midlife women report experiencing continual pressure to meet Western society's female beauty standards of youthfulness and thinness, and achievement of these attributes is associated with attractiveness and social advantage (Esnaola, Rodriguez, & Goni, 2010; Tiggemann, 2004). …

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