Not a 'teen' thing - women are now developing eating disorders most often in their 30s and 40s

This may come as a surprise for women who are in their 30s and 40s. Most of us grew up understanding (or misunderstanding) a few things about bulimia and anorexia, and chief among those was that it was most common among teenage girls. 

Well, teens aren't exactly out of the woods on that issue, but recent studies show that most of the women who do eventually develop an eating disorder only do so in their late 30s to early 40s. So for anyone else in this particular golden decade, we aren't anywhere near out of the woods. We need to be aware of the warning signs of common eating disorders in our friends, our co-workers, our relatives and even in ourselves. After all, the sooner an eating disorder is recognised, the more likely the sufferer is to recover from it. 

A rapid shift in diet can be a warning sign of an eating disorder 

There are so many warning signs, and most of them have already been discussed. One that gets mentioned least is at once one of the most common, and one of the hardest to spot as a problem - rapid dietary shifts. If someone you know has a new fad diet every month, or undergoes a severe shift - going hard-core vegan or carb-free, no longer eating out, or nearly anything else sudden and excessive - then you need to look for other signs. 

How to offer help if you are worried about someone in your life 

This can be difficult, embarrassing, and honestly does stand an excellent chance of making the person you are trying to help very angry, especially if it turns out that they really do need help. You can't wait for certainty, though. If these problems were ever obvious, they would not be nearly so deadly. 

A good place to start is simply asking if they are feeling stressed. Few of us, today, could really answer 'no' to that. It is an opportunity to start opening up about their feelings, and one they can start small with. If this doesn't work and you're truly worried, tell them that. Don't 'accuse' them of having an eating disorder - and that is what it can sound like - just start by expressing your honest concern, and then tell them why. Without making it something they 'shouldn't be doing' or something 'wrong'. The point is opening up a discussion, and doing so in a non-confrontational manner is usually a good place to start. 

Many of today's worst eating disorders stem from stress. 

Unfortunately, the women who seem to be achieving the most are often their own worst critics. They respond to the added pressures of growing older by trying to control their bodies more and more rigidly, and feeling more and more out of control when the realities of ageing make that more and more difficult. All too often, diet, weight loss and staying 'young' become that single, magic thing that women seek to control. It feels like if we can just keep an absolutely firm hand on this one issue, then we are just as in control of our lives as we 'should' be.

In 2018, Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW) takes place from 26 February to 4 March. Eating Disorders Awareness Week is an international awareness week, and every year Beat focuses on issues that matter to people affected by eating disorders. Past awareness weeks have focused on self-esteem, eating disorders in the workplace, and the importance of good understanding of eating disorders among GPs.