Eating Disorders in Mid Life.
This week marks Eating Disorders Awareness Week, a subject very close to my heart - as I’ve had my own battle with the disease. Like the menopause, it’s something of a taboo subject, and yet it affects 1 in 3 adults in the U.K. - and 15% of them are middle-aged women.
Eating disorders sit on a spectrum; from anorexia (starving your body of food through control), Bulimia (a tendency to binge and purge) through to over-eating. There are many myths around the understanding of this complicated illness, but in my personal experience - and through observation of my clients, the need to disappear and detach is the underlying issue.
Studies now tell us that childhood trauma such as divorce, abuse and death are some of the triggers attached to these disorders. After a lot of therapy myself, I identified that the combination of a very unhappy childhood at boarding school and a mother who cared more for her own needs than mine after my parents divorced, left me feeling that I just wasn’t “enough”.
As a teenager, I was incredibly self-conscious and constantly looking for a sense of approval in all the wrong places. My life was out of control, and I eventually realised that the only way to get any sense of order back was through how I ate….or didn’t. Though it wasn’t until my 40s that the illness really got a grip and I was diagnosed with Bulimia/Anorexia, which simply meant I ate very little (no binging) and then made myself sick.
The range of emotions throughout the process are huge; from the overwhelming guilt and self-hatred because I’d eaten something (which would make me bigger), to the rituals and control of purging, and the sense of euphoria having made myself “empty”. I was punishing myself because I didn’t think I was worthy, and I was making myself smaller because I felt a burden to others.
Interestingly, when I treat clients who over-eat, they also describe the need to disappear, but they feed themselves for comfort - and in so doing, put a layer around them to hide their “real” selves. What can make eating disorders even more complicated is that certain foods are addictive, like sugar, and therefore present the difficulty of conflicting addictions taking hold at the same time.
It’s incredibly hard to quieten the voice that whispers in your ear “go on do it”, but again it’s all about control. I recognised that I needed help, and finding my GP couldn’t offer much in the way of support or guidance, kept looking. Today, I’ve got a much healthier attitude to food and strive to keep going because I’m surrounded by a family who love me. Not everyone is as lucky of course, but there is help out there, and understanding your triggers and what causes them is half the battle.
I knew I couldn’t change my past, but I could change my perspective on it. Looking at your life through a new lense is important; counting your blessings and recognising that punishing yourself won’t hurt those who hurt you but could hurt those that love you, including yourself.
If you or someone you know is going through this debilitating disease, please seek help. If you can’t find what you need, keep trying. I’m always available to offer advice, and if you want to contact me, your details will be treated confidentially. You deserve to feed and nourish your body and have a life without feeling anything less thank amazing. Because you are!