SADLY RESEARCH SHOWS us that eating disorders are on the rise among Australians. The most recent study, conducted by researchers from James Cook University in Queensland, found the number of people showing signs of the illness has doubled over the past decade to one in very 20 Australians.
We assume that those statistics are those of young women, perhaps teenagers but the sad fact is that it is the women in her 30′s and has been suffering for many years. Because of these findings, GPs have been urged to inquire about behaviours of women in their thirties and forties who present with weight concerns.
Greta Kretchmer, executive officer of the Eating Disorders Foundation, says many of the calls she receives are from more mature women. Greta discovered women in their thirties and forties accounded for nearly one quarter of all eating disorders. These women report symptoms of bulimia, anorexia, binge eating and an eating disorder not otherwise specified ( a serious eating disorder that does not fit neatly into the research criteria).
In the US, some treatment centers are developing specific programs for this ‘new’ more mature, patient. Research suggests eating disorders develop for the first time in later life. US researchers say it’s likely many of these women have suffered for many years, whereas others has an eating disorder as a young women and then it resurfaced because of a new stress in their life.
The recurrence of an eating disorder in adult life may be caused by stressful circumstances such as going through a divorce, caring for an ageing parent, heavy workload and financial pressures, or dealing with an emotional and physical changes during pregnancy.
“As a child I suffered physical and emotional abuse from my father- with an element of sexual abuse thrown in for good measure. My brother was very ‘good’ and so I was the ‘bad’ one. My mother, I now realise suffered from depression, so I had no education about how to deal with emotions, and had no emotional support. It seems no surprise my emotions got tied up with food and I became an overweight binge eater from the age of 13, when my body seemed to explode into adolescence.”
” At 18, while at teachers college, my beloved grandmother died and after that I began to lose weight. As I became thinner, life became more exciting and my depression lifted. I assocated this imporovement with weight loss, I also began bingeing and purging. The initial relief from stress and depression didn’t last. Eating anything at all became more and more stressful and I tumbled down that slippery slope that is anorexia nervosa.”
“At that time, eating disorders were unheard of outside the medical profession and I had no idea what my psychiatrist meant when he told me I had anorexia nervosa. Staying in hospital merely proved I wasn’t as ill as some but was more ill than others, and offered me some temporary respite from a troubled home life. After eight months I was discharged, as they had no idea what to do with me.”
” Once I was in the outside world, my anorexia took hold again. However, I did find work and I met some kind, loving colleagues, who helped me stay fairly well by increasing my food range a little. I also began to socialise again and met the man who was to be my first husband. I married, reached a reasonable weight but remained bulimic in secret for the next 23 years. It’s an expensive illness and I denied myself new clothes and personal things to offset the guilt of all that wasted food.”
“My marriage crumbled, as it turned out to be another abusive relationship. In my 45 years I had learned nothing about looking after myself. I had managed to raise my three children but I am sure I was emotionally unavailable to them much of the time. They now know my story and I’ve been able to say sorry to them. I’ve been rewarded with love and understanding.”
“I then trained as a marriage guidance counsellor, ironic but true. People had always found it easy to talk to me about personal matters so I thought I might as well use my talent. At that point I realised I had to sort myself out before I could help others. I was lucky to find someone who specialized in eating disorders and over the next four years she helped me untangle the web of my life. I wish I had sought help much earlier but I have asked myself if I would have been ready to take such help and the answer is ‘ probably not.’
“Now in my sixties and happily married, I do still experience bad patches, but I have strategies in place to help me cope. These bad patches are always associated with unresolved feelings and I seek them out, talk about them, and somehow food doesn’t seem so important anymore.”
“I have since spent a long time counselling women with easting disorders and I am now on the board of the Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria. I’ve realised each person has a different story and their own individual path to travel to find good health again.”
MYTHS INVOLVING EATING DISORDERS
- Only women are affected. The reality is, men account for 10 per cent of people with eating disorders.
- Only wealthy, vain, spoilt or intelligent people develop an eating disorder. Clinicians have diagnosed eating disorders in people from varied social classes and intellect.
- You must be underweight to have an eating disorder. Men and women can present as ‘normal’ but they may have lost vast amounts of weight in a short period of time. Eating disorders also include binge or over eating, leading to obesity.
GET SOME HELP
Julie Thomson, of the Butterfly Foundation, says older women can become really frustrated about having what they see as a ‘ young person’s illness.’ Believing its something they should of grown out of. This type of thinking can get in the way of seeking help. Julie makes it clear that people need to understand that an eating disorder is a mental illness and it can happen to anyone at any time of their life.
Seeking help is very important. Long term eating disorders result in many health problems, such as infertility, dental decay, gum disease, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, gastrointestinal problems and heart irregularities. Mental health suffers as well.
The keys to know whether you have an eating disorder is signs like, frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, refusing to eat in front of other people, obsessing about food intake and exercise levels, constantly talking about dieting, severe or restrictive eating, constant complaining about physical appearance, ongoing low self esteem or significant weight loss are all strong signs of an eating disorder.
If you are concerned about something with an eating disorder, better you approach them with a smile or a hug and tenderness in your voice and concentrate on their emotions. Focus on what they are feeling at any particular moment and why they are feeling so terrible that they are punishing themselves in such a way.