Taken from the Daily Courier which is located HERE.
When my friend’s husband left her for a runner, my friend stopped eating and started walking. Pounding the pavement like she could crush her pain beneath her fast-moving feet, the serenity she sought soon became an obsession with her size.
Naturally athletic with a strong frame, she was built a little bigger (and clocked in a little older) than the other woman. Within several weeks, she was reduced to a stick figure of her former self. Skeletal in body and spirit, as her life spiraled out of control, she struggled to manage the only thing she could: her weight.
Sadly, my friend’s story isn’t unusual. Esther Kane, an eating disorder therapist in Courtenay, says half her patients are middle-aged women. In a Globe and Mail interview, she suggested most of these women have histories of abnormal eating, but suffered relapses following a crisis-often a husband leaving for a younger woman.
Once thought of as a teen’s disease, what some experts are calling the Desperate Housewives Syndrome – a reference to the TV show suggesting women can remain slim and sexy well into their 40s – have helped put eating disorders on the middle-aged map.
Dr. Valerie Taylor, chief of psychiatry at Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital, suggests a preoccupation with body image among women in their 40s and 50s is a new development – one that experts often miss and struggle to treat. Not only do adult women fall off physicians’ radar for eating disorders, most programs are run out of pediatric treatment centres.
Abnormal eating behaviour combined with obsessive concern over body size and shape, eating disorders fall into three general types.
Anorexia nervosa applies to individuals who refuse to maintain a minimally normal body weight and often have a distorted perception of their bodies.
Bulimia nervosa involves binge eating followed by vomiting, use of laxatives, or excessive exercise to compensate for caloric intake. Compulsive overeating or binge-eating disorder applies to those who regularly consume excessive amounts of food in relatively short periods of time, minus purging.
While the symptoms differ, a sense of failure and shame at the self-destructive nature of eating disorders is the same. Rooted in low self-esteem and anxiety, the issues are as complex as the individuals who suffer the conditions, but with the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, eating disorders constitute a serious threat to the well-being of a concerning number of Canadians.
The Canadian Mental Health Association says up to four per cent of Canadian women suffer from anorexia or bulimia, while two per cent of Canadian women and men have been diagnosed with binge-eating disorders.
Certainly, celebrities and super models set unrealistic standards for most women to follow. Forgetting that a host of helpers from make-up professionals to personal trainers are often involved, not to mention plastic surgery and Photoshop, many women struggle to make peace with themselves in comparison and a smaller number make themselves sick attempting to.
For older women, the consequences may be worse. Bones become more brittle and osteoporosis is a real threat. Gastrointestinal and cardiovascular problems can occur and, unfortunately, older bodies don’t bounce back like youthful ones.
Statistics tell us our metabolism slows with age, we are at the mercy of hormonal changes, and like it or not, gravity gains ground. Throw a pregnancy or a few in there, and nature takes her course, which for most women, means middle-aged middles and slower- to-heal parts.
While media pressure may be to blame for some obsessing over our bodies, there are a number of reasons eating disorders might resurface – or newly arise – in middle age. Typically a time when both men and women contemplate their identities, it’s not uncommon for women in this demographic to examine themselves in new ways.
The high rate of divorce throws many women back into the dating game and some think they need to be thin to attract another man. Then there are career pressures, along with caring for aging parents and dealing with growing children, all of which leave many women drained or questioning their purpose.
Kelowna counsellor Keirsten Provost says 70 per cent of women who come in for counselling are seeking help with other issues, but concerns about their weight inevitably arise.
“Eating disorders are often accompanied by other issues, such as depression and anxiety,” she explains.
Eating disorders among middle-aged women may be new, but with the Canadian population growing older (more than half of which are women), it’s a trend likely to continue.