Is It Possible for Older Women with Bulimia to Recover?

By January 29, 2013

Thank you for this site as it is truly a Godsend. I am 49 years old and have been bulimic for about 30 years on and off, but mostly on. For about the last five years I have been going to therapy and really trying to beat this thing. I have prayed, gone to group therapy, tried various medications, went to a nutritionist and recovery meetings at a church, but the bulimia is still here. I am a stronger person and know myself better now as I have gone through therapy, but I just can’t seem to let go of the eating disorder. The therapy seems to help in my daily life, but not with the bulimia at all! I want to throw my arms up and let it go, but I just can’t. It is my friend. When I come home stressed and I want to zone out, I binge on everything and purge. I know that it does not help with weight loss, as I am on the heavy side and I don’t want to gain weight. Every time I eat I mentally struggle about what, how much, and when I should get rid of it. It is always a mental battle. I am so weary of it. My body has been good to me. It’s been healthy, but I know I am getting older and it’s time to stop this behavior. It’s just so engrained that I don’t know if I can. I guess my question is: Is it possible for a woman of my age that has had bulimia for so long to actually recover? I read articles about younger women that have had it a few years and recovered, but it is so engrained into me that it feels hopeless. I just don’t know where else to turn! We live in a very small town. Do you have any suggestions that maybe I haven’t discovered yet? I am ready to be free from E.D.! Thank you so much. -dj

Dear DJ,

Your question is profound. You write honestly of your 30-year practice of bulimia and your apparent wonderment that “the bulimia is still here” after five years of work. Apparently the various things you have tried in the last five years have made a difference in your daily life. Yes! That is good news. But, again, the bulimia is still present. I sense there is some emotional intensity for you around being 49. And I wonder if any of the following questions resonate with you: “What does it mean that I am 49 and still practice something I started at 19? Am I broken? Am I hopeless? If I did not “kick it” when I was young does that mean this is my life?”

Additionally, your note reads as if you might be “scared.” Scared to give up what bulimia offers you: “It is my friend. When I come home stressed and want to zone out, I binge on everything and purge.” Scared that having chosen the safety of the bulimia for so long means you are permanently “stuck.” My hope is that you can spend more time with your counseling professional thinking about the 30-year relationship you have maintained. I would think it would be very challenging to just divorce, break up, or leave something that is a “friend” or assists you with “zoning out.”

This “stuckness” may not be about your age or how long you have been doing it. Perhaps it is about what it has offered you: safety, nurture, and the pride of being in control of your own self. After all, it is there for you when you come home. It is there for you when you are stressed. It is there for you when you eat and want to get rid of it. When the bulimia is not here how are you going to be nurtured? How will you make your self safe and okay?

I would be curious to know what was happening when you were 19. How did this help you at 19 with whatever you were dealing with? Be aware that when we attempt to “stop” a behavior that has had significance we often find ourselves “tested.” The part of us that felt safe and nurtured in some way steps up and dares to ask, “Are you really going to trust that dietitian? Do you think after 30 years you can do this any other way? What will help you when you come home from work?”

Regardless of a person’s age my sense is that “breaking up is hard to do”! And you are talking about letting go of something that has long-term safety and nurture principles for you. Consider looking at Jenni Schaefer’s work, Life Without Ed, if you have not already read the book.

I encourage you to hold the course you are on. Persevere toward the end goal. You are five years down the road of a new way of living (talking to professionals, seeking nutrition input, utilizing church resources, etc.) and you deserve a sixth, a seventh, a twentieth. Recovery is not a race. It is a walk. A slow, revealing, growing, deep walk until you understand that you are safe, you are deeply and profoundly loved, you are good, you are held in highest esteem, and you have a future that is free.

Deep prayer and wishes to you!

Leanne Spencer, LPC, MAMFC, CGE