Could you have an eating disorder?

Caroline Cassidy

Say the words anorexia nervosa and bulimia and teenage sufferers are the first things that come to mind. But a study published in PLoS ONE revealed that the average age that a woman develops an eating disorder is now somewhere between their late 30s and their early 40s.

Eating disorders
Eating disorders

Pic: Getty

What's more, there are a number of new disorders hitting these late onset sufferers, and the triggers behind them are not always what you might imagine. Take a look at the new breed of food-related illnesses and find out when it's time to take action.

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Orthorexia Nervosa
The growing trend for organic and 'pure' foods is at the root of this one, with women choosing their produce so carefully, and sometimes doing without entire food groups, that they could end up malnourished. Obsessed with reading the nutritional values on your grub? It could be a sign of a problem.

Anorexia Athletica
Fitness is all very well, but when workouts become an obsession it can have serious consequences, not least for your job or relationship. Working out to purge calories and feeling anxious when you miss a trip to the gym are signs that it's taking hold.

The celebrity habit of shedding pregnancy pounds within what seems like days of giving birth has given rise to a growing number of expectant mums dieting and exercising far more than is healthy during pregnancy. Both mother and baby need good, healthy nutrition - starving yourself could put you at risk of anaemia and even cause a miscarriage.

A frightening 30 per cent of women were found to show this particular behaviour, according to a study at the University of Missouri. It involves cutting back on food in order to enjoy the calories you'll get from alcohol without gaining weight.

Specific to diabetes sufferers, this worrying disorder is most common among young females, who skip their essential insulin shots to stay thin. If you or someone you know has type 1 diabetes, you'll know just how dangerous that really is.

Food Neophobia
Often triggered by a childhood trauma, food neophobia is also known as Selective Eating Disorder, where sufferers will only eat certain, often very limited, foods, leading to potentially serious health problems and malnourishment.

Reduce your risk
Unlike the teenage girls and boys we hear about in relation to anorexia nervosa, the triggers for late onset sufferers are often to do with stress, a need to take control, or a life event like giving birth, getting divorced or losing a parent.

Serious mood swings, the habit of putting yourself down, and a sudden and severe change of diet are all signs that you could be developing a problem. And if life has started to revolve around your weight or control of your eating habits, you may have an issue.
Key to fighting off these triggers is to reduce stress levels. Stress and anxiety cause the body to release the stress hormone cortisol, and continually high levels can soon lead to sufferers needing to feel in control. Diet and food are an easy way to gain this feeling of control, and when it becomes obsessive and extreme, it becomes an eating disorder. A sensible exercise regime, based on short 30-minute sessions, can help to level you off, while yoga is another great stress reliever.

If you are worried that a friend or relative is showing the first signs of an eating disorder, a non-judgmental and initially casual conversation might help them to take the first step to finding professional help. Without offering advice, express your concern - late-onset sufferers are much quicker to seek help and it may be just the push they need.

Have you suffered a late-onset eating disorder? How did you deal with your problem? Leave your comments below...