Many women in their mid years struggle with eating disorders (ED). These disorders whether anorexia, bulimia or binge eating have often gone on for years, have never been diagnosed and/or have resurfaced after many years in remission. It has been estimated that increasing number of women in midlife (30-65 years) are indeed struggling with these dangerous and potentially deadly disorders. Dr. Pryor at the Eating Disorder Center of Denver identified 94 percent of her ED patients suffered from these disorders in their youth, and something triggered either a relapse or their condition to worsen at an older age.
So why suddenly midlife trigger? This is a time for change and a time which is often stressful for women. Developmental changes : such as changing body image, change in body composition, menopause and psychological changes :caring for aging parents , divorce, children leaving home even competition in the workplace or retirement may increase stress. These transitions can intensify ongoing eating disorder symptoms or trigger even a relapse.
Despite the age difference teens with eating disorders and mid lifers are struggling with the same issues of low self-esteem or self-worth, body loathing and, perhaps a co-existing psychiatric condition. Anxious and worrisome individuals may also be more prone. Other factors may include possible abuse (emotional, physical or sexual) and grief or loss. Unlike teens, midlife eating disordered patients have often suffered for years making the disorder a chronic condition- one where treatment may include coping and emphasis on mutual adult relational counseling compared to treatment in younger women.
For recovery women need to be able to talk about their disorder and know that they are not alone. For midlifers- an experienced therapist is a must- one in practice for at least 10 years. Being able to explore new paths towards recovery and adult dialogue allow both patient and therapist to contribute to recovery.
The treatment for midlife eating disorders includes breaking the habit of rigidity and emotional disconnect . A core model for treatment created by Jean Baker Miller (2) includes the following “five good things”:
1. Fostering relationships
2. A sense of zest
3. Better understanding of self and others, Improved self worth and validation
4. Enhanced capacity to act on behalf of oneself and others
5. And a heightened desire for more connection.
Due to their commitments and responsibilities mid life women may face more obstacles in treatment. It is never to late to start the process to end the disordered relationship between food and the body. To get help or for more information on preventing and treating eating disorders, visit the National Eating Disorders Association, www.renfew.org and the F.R.E.E.D Foundation.
(1) Samuels KL & Maine, M.D., Working with Women at Midlife: A Relational Perspective, The Renfew Center Perspectives Newsletter, pp.10-12. Summer Ed., 2011.
(2) Miller & Stiver, The healing connection: How women form relationships in therapy and in life. Boston: Beacon Press, 1997.