Baby Boomer Women and the Dark Secret of Eating Disorders

| February 6, 2018 | 0 Comments | Email This Post Email This Post

Baby Boomer Women and the Dark Secret of Eating Disorders

By Iris Ruth Pastor

 

I don’t really know how many women in midlife suffer with an eating disorder. Dr. Cynthia Bulik, author of Midlife Eating Disorders, Your Journey to Recovery, notes that thirteen percent of women age fifty and above have an eating disorder, eight percent purge, and sixty-two percent said weight negatively impacts their life. I think the numbers are even higher.

No One is Happy with Their Weight or “Perfect”

My friends in the retail business tell me that they have never waited on a woman over the age of fifty who is satisfied with her body.

Asking friends, family, acquaintances, neighbors, and co-workers how important is being thin, the overwhelming majority said, “of the utmost importance.”

It’s not surprising, because in our culture fat translates to negative feelings about ourselves. And in our culture, “being perfect” is seen as attainable.

We may not be a gourmet cook, a chic fashion aficionado, an organized housewife or a master gardener. We may not be the mother of a valedictorian. We may have married well, but bliss didn’t follow. Maybe we missed the promotion at work, and maybe we never had one of our many poems published.  

Pursuing perfection, it’s impossible for us to be satisfied with anything we do. We throw a dinner party – not only do we feel we have to cook the meal from scratch, but a real woman would learn how to weave placemats on a loom to use at her dinner party too. Geez – whatever happened to potluck and plastic tablecloths?

The strive for perfection plays out in our body , since it is the one thing we do have control over.

We know three things:

  • We can exercise more
  • We can eat less
  • And we can lose weight

And that mentality leads to thinking of food as bad, a day without exercise as bad, a day the scale registers north as bad. And that can easily lead to disordered eating patterns.

Enter ED

ED (eating disorder) creeps in at transitional stages.

At puberty:

Puberty reared its power with shockingly, not-so-little bumps emerging on my chest at age eleven. I suddenly realized I was getting more attention for how my body looked in a sweater than how it had performed at a track meet. And I liked the attention and wanted to keep getting it.

At age seventeen to nineteen:

I’m not able to pin down the exact date I started throwing up after every evening meal. However, by the time I had scored high enough on my SATs to get into an out-of-state university as a transfer student, been initiated into a sorority and got my heart broken by my high school boyfriend, I was bingeing and purging regularly.

ED and I were together for the next forty-six years.

And beyond

The mile markers continue. Graduations. Job searches. Geographical moves. Dating. Marriage. Fertility issues or difficult pregnancies. Marital adjustments. Stay home or put the kids in day care issues. Separation. Divorce. Disappointing friends and family members. Balancing budget travails. Errant teenagers. Ailing parents.

And society’s pervasive message is: DON’T BE OUT OF CONTROL. BE HAPPY. DON’T BE A BITCH. DON’T COMPLAIN. DON’T BE A DEBBIE DOWNER.  

What do we do with our frustrations, our anxiety, our stress, our self doubt? Our inability to continuously cope?

We turn inward and attack our own bodies. And so begins the vicious cycle of an eating disordered woman.

An eating disordered woman of a certain age

Midlife women who suffer with eating disorders feel ridiculous seeking help because they look upon ED as a teenage problem and they are far from being teenagers. Shame surrounds them.

They feel they should know better:

  • It’s ruining my teeth
  • I could get cancer of the esophagus
  • My intestine could strangle me
  • I’ve got so much else I should be doing
  • It’s costing me a fortune

I felt the same way, but reasoning and logic don’t work. The power of compulsion is stronger. The battle can’t be won intellectually.

The inside is at war with the outside. The inside is a mess, but to the world most of us are highly functioning, responsible, obligation-fulfilling women. And we aren’t too eager to dispel that illusion.

Breaking Free

It’s been six years since I have binged and purged. What’s changed? I have tapped into the wisdom inside me – the mother force within.  

I am able to self-soothe. When something disconcerting happens, I don’t automatically jump into coping mode, but work through my inner turmoil. I don’t disparage myself for having yearnings, bearing grudges, making mistakes. I tolerate my internal messiness.

I also broke free of destructive behaviors and thought patterns by gradually and incrementally integrating the principles of intuitive eating into my mindset. Elise Resch, author of the book by the same name, defines “Intuitive Eating” as recognizing your own inner hunger signals.

Intuitive eating entails:

  • Giving yourself permission to eat, so that the intense feelings of deprivation don’t build up
  • Experiencing both pleasure and satisfaction, not fear, in the eating arena
  • Distinguishing between emotional and physical hunger
  • Finding other ways to unwind and calm yourself that don’t involve food. (I knit, practice yoga, and binge-watch like crazy.)
  • Taking away the value judgment of “good” and “bad” as it relates to food intake.

Intuitive Eating is a challenge. But think mouse steps—not kangaroo leaps.

Many older women who are plagued with disordered eating experience a sudden shift that came from some hidden place within them. They were able to stop their bulimic behavior after many years. They describe it as “a fundamental turning.” They say that was when “healing began.” It stemmed from a gradual disengaging from societal and deeply ingrained messages and intently feeding their soul.

On Valentine’s Day, 2012, I too had this “magical” awakening. It was the last night I binged and purged. I then followed it up with three months of outpatient treatment at an eating disorders facility.

Hope is always there. Recovery is always possible—at any age and any stage.

Has my life been perfect since I stopped bingeing and purging six years ago? Nope. But it’s been pretty damn good.

Iris Ruth Pastor, is an author and speaker whose mantra is “Preserving Your Bloom:” encouraging people to use their talents and resources to be the best they can be. She shares her forty-six year battle with bulimia in her newest book: The Secret Life of a Weight-Obsessed Woman.

 

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