Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Growing Older With An Eating Disorder.

“I will not eat cakes or cookies or food. I will be thin, thin, pure. I will be pure and empty. Weight dropping off. Ninety-nine... ninety-five... ninety-two... ninety. Just one more to eighty-nine. Where does it go? Where in the universe does it go?”  -- Francesca Lia Block

Left: In Rome. Right: At a Buddhist Wedding.
These pictures of me in my 20s make me feel wistful, but not because I long for my youth. In truth, my sadness comes from remembering my lack of appreciation for myself as a young woman. From the age of fourteen, I struggled with eating disorders that would often manifest during periods of distress. Regrettably, much of my youthful energy was spent exercising and dieting. I was fixated on trying to attain an idealized weight because I thought I could be happy once I was ‘perfect.’  If I could go back in time, I would give my younger self a big hug and unconditional love. I certainly needed it.

Although it’s a difficult topic to discuss, I felt compelled to share my experience after reading a recent article titled, How Eating Disorders Impact Older Women: ‘The Changing Body is a Trigger. Often associated with young women, incidents of eating disorders in midlife women have been increasing steadily in recent years. Weight gain and body changes, along with other stressful events such as divorce, death of parents, and financial strains are common eating disorder catalysts. Additionally, the societal emphasis on thinness and youth may evoke feelings of invisibility and contribute to women's fears about aging.  

Some women experience eating disorders in adolescence or young adulthood and may have recurring episodes throughout their lives. Other women may have their first onset in midlife or even later. How eating disorders develop is not entirely clear. Aimee Liu, author of Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders, suggests, “Eating disorders are like a gun that’s formed by genetics, loaded by a culture and family ideals, and triggered by unbearable distress.” In looking at my own family environment, I was raised to be a perfectionist, and being ‘good enough’ was not an option. Moreover, I was expected to be cheerful and self-sufficient, even when I felt as if I were falling apart. As a consequence, controlling my weight via starvation diets and vigorous exercise became my way to cope with stress and anxiety. Sadly, these dysfunctional behaviors have been fairly constant throughout my life.

Aside from weight and body shape concerns, eating disorders pose serious health risks. According to AARP, starving, binging and purging have detrimental effects on health and may lead to heart problems, gastrointestinal problems, damaged teeth, and osteoporosis. Older women with eating disorders suffer the greatest harm, as bodies become less resilient with age. Just as alarming as the physical damage is the fact that anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality risk among all mental health issues. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, people with anorexia have a 10 percent mortality rate at 10 years with the disease, and 20 percent mortality at 20 years. 

At 50, I am experiencing bodily changes and finding I no longer fit into much of my wardrobe. Still, I have learned to be much kinder and accepting of myself. Recognizing that eating disorders can be reignited at any time, daily self-care is a priority. For many years, my eating disorder was a dark secret. I rarely, if ever, acknowledged that I even had it. Now I wonder if any women I know might be struggling with similar challenges? For readers who are in midlife and/or going through menopause, how do you feel about changes to your weight and body shape? I would be interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences. Thank you for reading my post.


  1. Thanks for sharing this post Koko.
    I gained weight these last few years and had attributed it to just "getting older" and how it's only natural etc. But then I started tracking my exercise level (not activity, but heart-thumping exercise) and what I was eating, and it was unbalanced. I was eating too much and exercising too little. For me, I realized that older meant I was not getting as much exercise. And, since we lose muscle mass as we age, my body weight had less muscle than before. I got serious about exercising vigorously 3x a week; vigorously, not gentle classes but hard workouts (I started slow and built up over months). That helped me rebuild muscle -- which is so overlooked as we age. We have 40% less muscle than in our 20's. If one is thin in her 20's, imagine 40% less muscle mass when one is 50 (and less bone mass and strength too). Now I am stronger and sleep soundly. Bonus: my "old" clothes fit again. I feel good knowing my bones are better protected. I used an app to get started running as a beginning runner; I used an app to track what I ate and my nutrition. Just the act of tracking exercise and eating made me more mindful to make good choices with food and time.

    1. Hi Lisa,

      Thanks for sharing your experience on how you were able to overcome the weight gain and become more fit and healthy. Looking good feels good, but as we age it becomes more than for vanity's sake -- Your health and wellbeing depend on it! Your story is inspiring!

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  2. Thank you for sharing your journey with your eating disorder. I know it is not something easy to share. I have noticed a weight gain as I get older, but I am trying my best to combat it with diet and exercise, in the right amounts. It can be easy to fall into bad, old habits.

    1. Thank you for reading my post and for your comments, Margaretta. It's a difficult subject, but I've had friends confess their disordered eating habits after reading my post. It made me realize that eating and body image challenges may not be so unusual in our society.