Targeted Interventions Help Middle-Aged Women with Eating Issues

Women struggle with eating issues at various ages, and research suggests that over the course of their lifetimes, women maintain relatively constant levels of body dissatisfaction. More recent findings reveal that middle-aged women are among the fastest growing segment of the population with eating problems and body image issues today. “Findings consistently indicate that midlife women desire to be thinner, diet despite being a healthy weight and engage more frequently in avoidant behavior  associated with body image concerns than do women of other ages,” said Sian A. McLean of the School of Psychological Science at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Victoria Australia. “Studies of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) based interventions for body dissatisfaction and disordered eating in young women have shown clinically significant reductions in body dissatisfaction, bulimic symptoms, dietary restraint, and depressive symptoms,” she said. McLean and her colleagues theorized that CBT aimed at addressing the issues that plague middle-aged women would realize same results.

The team enlisted 61 women ranging in age from 30 to 60 and assigned them to a control group, a delayed treatment group, or an intervention group. The women in the intervention group met once a week for eight weeks for CBT which highlighted midlife themes. Additionally, the therapy focused on appearance changes, self-worth, acceptance and other age-related issues. “Participants in the intervention group showed significant improvements of large effect size from baseline to post-test in comparison with the control group on body dissatisfaction, body attitudes, eating, and physical self-care variables,” said the researchers. They also noted that the improvements were maintained at six months. “This study shows the program was valuable in meeting the needs of this particular group, in this case midlife-specific factors related to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating.” They added, “Focusing on the circumstances of midlife resulted in the exploration of pertinent situations that trigger and maintain body image and eating concerns.”

McLean, S. A., Paxton, S. J., & Wertheim, E. H. (2011, October 17). A Body Image and Disordered Eating Intervention for Women in Midlife: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026094

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • reed


    October 22nd, 2011 at 5:24 AM

    I see this a lot in my mom and their friends. They are striving for perfection that I know, at 23, is unattainable. So why are they, at 50, still struggling with that?

  • samiam


    October 23rd, 2011 at 5:31 AM

    As a male I do not get this at all. Why worry about these things? We are all made to be different, no one wants to be a cookie cutter image of anyone else. So why continue to fight this if you know that in the end it is pointless? You are who you are and your body will become what it is meant to be. Take care of it, yes, but you don’t have to go to the extremes that seem to be the norm in today’s world.

  • AW


    October 23rd, 2011 at 5:34 AM

    This could happen because these people do not understand that they are aging-that they are now in middle-aged and are not young and maintaining your body is not as easy as it was before.But another important thing that all of us,irrespective of age,need to understand is that being healthy and strong is far more important than being thin or slim.

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