Are You Hiding An Eating Disorder In Midlife?

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I had a week-long celebration when I turned 50. I have seen pictures taken during the last event, and perhaps the party shouldn't have gone on quite so long. But I was determined "not to be like my mother."

She didn't let us speak to her about her 50th birthday.

On that day, she showed up to help me move from my college dorm room to an apartment in Memphis, dressed in white pants, a white silk blouse, and cute little Pappagallo shoes. By the end of the day, she still looked immaculate, as only my mom could. We sat in the middle of the floor, licked juice off our fingers from some Kentucky Fried (she took off the skin and ate only one piece), and laughed about the rustic dinginess of my new surroundings.

But not a word about growing older.

I still know women like my mom. They absolutely detest getting older. They shake incredulous heads at the idea that perhaps they could accept another version of beauty. They are far from the midlife bloggers who stand in the bright sun, taking selfies or Periscopes of themselves, hooting about this and that, exuding confidence. Instead, they're smart, attractive, often thin or want-to-be-thin women who have somehow reached their 40s or 50s, and not learned their own worth as a person.

Who are these women? We all know them, probably like them a lot.

She's the woman you see jogging when it's 30 degrees outside, or raining hard, whose legs look too thin to even hold her up. She's the mom who pushes her normal-looking 10 year-old daughter to go to Weight Watchers, when waiting for a growth spurt would be more rational. She's the coworker who never seems to have time to take a break for a snack or lunch, but is always constantly doing.

Women with these issues will tend to group together, (if they don't isolate themselves from others). We all do this, of course. We seek those that are like us, so that we will feel okay about our own choices. Paleo people hang with Paleo people. Oreo lovers find other cookie cravers. Home schoolers, other home schoolers. You get the point.

My concern is this. What if underneath the obsessing about wrinkles, weight, or aging itself, is an eating disorder that has always been around, but has been denied or untreated? This could be anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, or some combination of these. Perhaps it is what we call body dysmorphia, where you don't or can't see a certain part of your body in a rational way? You see it as abnormal, ugly, or disgusting.

These groups of women will then support one another in their disorder, without truly meaning to or recognizing it. They will talk about diets and extreme exercise regimens, while they eat what they term "healthy." And they can become more and more obsessed, as their fear of losing control escalates with age.

Families can be stuck without knowing what to do. Depression can take over. And friends cannot see it, because they don't see it in themselves.

Eating disorders are not about food. They're about self-esteem and control. When they're entrenched in midlife, it's tough work to dig them up, and many choose not to do it.

Interestingly, my mom also had an eating disorder, which she passed onto me. I was lucky. I overcame the behavior part of it. The thinking part still lingers, and I have to confront it from time to time.

You're never too old to grow new skills. Never. If you're one of these women (or a man for that matter), please seek help.

The treatment is not about becoming okay with weighing more. Treatment is about learning that a number on a scale doesn't define who you are, or how you feel that day.

Treatment is about acknowledging the "you" that has nothing to do with age, or weight, or eye color, or skin color. It's the you who was hurt long ago, and needs healing.

Treatment is about recognizing that "I feel so fat," is not a statement about emotion. Fat isn't a feeling.

What you can gain is true self-confidence and acceptance.

It's worth it.

The Eating Disorder National Hotline number is 1-855-637-2002. There are great books on the topic, Thin by Lauren Greenfield and Wasted by Marya Hornbacher are two.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com.

Originally published on Midlife Boulevard.

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