There are too many stereotypes today about eating disorders; specifically, the widespread myth that they can only affect younger women. But in reality, 13 percent of women over the age of 50 have eating disorders. And until very recently, I was one of them.
It’s not surprising, because in our culture fat translates to negative feelings about ourselves. In our culture, “being perfect” is seen as attainable.
So the strive for perfection plays out in our body since it is one thing we feel like we have control over. That mentality leads to thinking of food as bad, a day without exercise as bad, or weight fluctuations are bad. And that can easily lead to disordered eating patterns.
ED (eating disorder) creeps in at transitional stages. And a transitional stage for me was transferring universities my sophomore year in college. It was then that I started binging and purging regularly—a behavior that I would continue for the next forty six years.
I binged at every mile-marker in life: Graduations. Job searches. Geographical moves. Dating. Marriage. Pregnancies. Separation. Divorce. Re-marriage. Empty nest. Retirement. Parental caretaking.
So what did I do with my frustrations, anxiety, stress, and self-doubt? My inability to continuously cope?
I turned inward and attacked my own body. And so the vicious cycle of an eating disordered woman continued and continued and continued.
I felt ridiculous seeking help because I looked upon ED as a teenage problem and I was far from being a teenager. I was shrouded with shame and the feeling that I should “know better.”
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 – well, many of us are highly functioning, responsible, obligation-fulfilling women. And we aren’t too eager to dispel that illusion.
It’s been six years since I have binged and purged. What’s changed?
- I have tapped into the wisdom inside of 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 broke free of destructive behaviors and thought patterns by gradually 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.
- I gave myself permission to eat, so that the intense feelings of deprivation didn’t build up.
- I learned to distinguish the difference between emotional and physical hunger. And I tried to find pleasure in eating and banish the fear. By taking small steps—not large leaps that couldn’t be sustained—I succeeded.
The last time I binged and purged was on Valentine’s Day in 2012. I experienced a shift that came from some hidden place within—best described as “a fundamental turning.” It stemmed from slowly disengaging from society’s deeply ingrained body image messages and intently focusing on feeding my own soul. Shortly thereafter, I began three months of outpatient treatment at an eating disorders facility. I learned that recovery is always possible—at any age.
Has my life been perfect since I stopped binging 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.