Eating Disorders in midlife

Eating disorders, often referred to as EDs (not to be confused with Erectile Dysfunction), were identified as an issue perhaps 30 years ago or longer.  Since then, treatments have been put in place and modified with experience. These treatments are primarily geared towards helping adolescent girls, because this is the population that is identified as most likely to suffer from an ED.

But, EDs are much more prevalent than thought among women (and some men) who are transitioning from their energy-efficient young years to their not-so-energy-eficient midlife years. Treatment programs specifically for these women and men are rare.  (I will refer only to women, and assume the inclusion of men who are also suffering from an ED.)

ED’s include anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. An ED may represent a relapse in a woman, or it may be the first time it’s happened to them. EDs can wreak havoc in a woman’s life, just as they can in adolescents; but because the woman doesn’t fit the profile, it can remain undiagnosed, untreated, and misunderstood.

Adolescents are innocents compared to a woman in her 40’s and 50’s (and even 60’s and 70’s). Although the adolescent will attempt to hide the disorder, it isn’t long before it’s noticed by a caring adult.  A woman, on the other hand, who has an ED, can hide it successfully for years, even from herself.  Fad diets – one after the other, over-exercising, diuretic foods and “natural” laxatives, detoxing and excessive fasting. I would even add liposuction to the list.  Maintaining our girlish figure keeps getting harder and harder as we age. And yet our society continues to place a premium on looking youthful.

It’s a way to maintain control in a chaotic world, to cope with painful situations. We are rewarded for looking young, for looking fit beyond our years.  Looking our age can bring on feelings of shame and embarrassment, instead of feelings of pride for our experience, accomplishments and hard-earned wisdom.

I don’t believe this preoccupation with looks is healthy. I don’t believe most people do, even if we all in some way support it. How do we begin the process of shifting to a healthier frame of mind? By learning to love who we are and how we look in this moment; choosing what we wear because we feel good in those clothes, by eating what gives us pleasure and is good for our bodies, and by fully accepting and loving the person we are and have become. By taking pride of ownership in who we have grown into.

For most of us, not at all an easy task.



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Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .


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