Dangerous eating behaviour is now commonplace as a growing number of women go to extremes to lose weight, a Victoria University study has found.
VU psychology lecturer Dr Lyndsey Nolan said that extreme dieting had previously been the province of the young, but was now becoming more common among women in their 40s and 50s.
Her study, which included survey respondents aged 18 to 65, found women as old as 60 admitted to dangerous types of dieting because of body dissatisfaction.
Almost half of the 209 women who took part in the study said they had engaged in at least one episode of vomiting, laxative/diuretic abuse or uncontrolled binge eating to control their weight in the past six months.
Fourteen respondents were found to have been previously treated for disordered eating, with another 84 admitting to at least one type of dangerous eating behaviour.
Dr Nolan also found that more than 90 per cent of the women "strongly agreed” or "somewhat agreed" that they had never measured up to the body image standards set for themselves.
"The findings are particularly alarming because it seems that dangerous eating behaviour has become commonplace. Women have begun to resort to destructive means to achieve weight loss,” Dr Nolan said.
"It is worrying that the overall feedback from women about their body image was negative, self-defeating and derogative, which highlighted themes of passivity, helplessness, dependence on others, and abject failure.
"The results showed that many of them had engaged in multiple dangerous eating behaviours, which is even more distressing and alarming. It shows that these women aren’t just using one of these destructive weight loss methods to achieve a sense of thinness, they’re using several methods.”
Dr Nolan, who also works at the Royal Melbourne Hospital Eating Disorders Unit, said many women remained silent about their eating disorders for too long.
"I’ve worked with people who haven’t sought treatment for Bulimia nervosa for 10 years, and then decide they’ve got a problem and seek help. That’s 10 years of serious destructive behaviour; emotionally, psychologically and physically.”
(Source: Victoria University)