Middle-Age Eating Issues

By November 29, 2012

I’m in my late fifties, happily married, with a good life and heartfelt pursuits, and after many years (14) of ongoing recovery from eating disorders (restrictive eating, binge eating, brief bulimia), am discouraged. My husband has a serious medical problem and I’m sad and scared. Although I went through breast cancer — my recovery and joy of living remaining intact– his illness brings up many of my old childhood anxieties and I have responded by wanting to restrict. I am also a recovering alcoholic. I have recognized the pattern (finally!) of my recent “slight” restrictive eating though I lost a few pounds, but am gaining the 5 pounds back and have increased my eating. I already eat in a very healthy way. I do not eat sugar or wheat but follow a balanced varied health plan which I enjoy and my health is excellent. I consulted a nutritionist before and after I was diagnosed with cancer. (By the way, I have a strong prognosis of complete recovery.) I am slender (5’5″ and ***-*** pounds) and exercise moderately (30-40 minutes walking or light jogging daily). I have been in therapy for 30 years but “graduated” five years ago. I had achieved success in several important areas in my life and felt emotionally steady. I have a meditation practice which is my fundamental spiritual practice. Now after doing even more reading on eating disorders and talking honestly with my sponsor, I admit that “being thin & attractive” is still vitally important to me. I am approaching 60 and middle-age is bringing up many of the same issues that adolescence brought up. I am not scared I will starve or binge. I feel good enough about life to not be diverted into insane ways of coping but those small cunning habits of using or not-using food still beckon. I share with my sponsor, certain trusted friends, my husband too, and go to meetings (including an eating disorders anonymous group I’ve rejoined) but I feel so sad. Here I am, middle-aged, and, when I hurt, I want to use food just the way I did so many years ago. I feel some shame that I would return to that way of thinking, that futile way of getting “control.” Perhaps the ednos has never really left. I don’t want to go over my childhood again (I’ve spent years doing that). I have recognized my behavior, changed what needed to be changed, am pledged to feel my feelings, and choose life but this process, now, is surprisingly painful. This website offers hope which I appreciate. Thanks for any insight. —H.

Dear H.

Your question raises a very important point. You write, “I admit that ‘being thin & attractive’ is still vitally important to me. I am approaching middle-age and it is bringing up many of the same issues that adolescence brought up.”

Yes! Many times we assume disordered eating is common only to young females. But there is no real date (at least that I am aware of) that signifies that a woman’s heart will no longer weep for love, acceptance, proof of being cherished, and being physically desired and accepted.

How I appreciate your insight regarding the fact that at different stages in our lives we experience or re-experience certain topics. There is no “completely over it” status for recovery from any addiction. There will always be developmental stages, personal crisis, or accomplishments that may cause us to be drawn to former ways of coping.

If you have had a period of time where you experienced “less” disordered eating and/or you felt as if you were working your own program, and suddenly the pendulum swings on your recovery, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is happening around me or with me that I do not like/want?
  • Where and when are my personal needs being met?
  • What am I doing to cope with this?
  • What do I look like when I feel okay and not drawn in to disordered eating?
  • What am I doing with my time?
  • What have I been “looking at” or comparing in my self-talk or conversations with friends/family? 

When you find yourself being “drawn in” to valuing/thinking about and/or focusing on your looks, how you compare with others, your weight, or increasingly judging yourself for what you eat and what you look like…take assessment of the situation. Answer some of the above questions. It is not a “bad” sign that you find yourself in this place. What will mark the maturity of your journey and the strength of your willingness to live free of the bondage of disordered eating is your response.

Respond to yourself with kindness and acceptance. Inform any accountability partner you may have or share it with a trusted friend/spouse. Consider re-joining support groups or seeing a professional who may have been helpful to you in the past. Take comfort in knowing there are others your age who also struggle – you don’t have to walk this road alone.

Take care,