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Eating Disorders: They Don't Just Happen to Teens

November 25, 2015 4 min read

Eating disorders affect people of all ages.
Denise Folcik had four kids by the time she was 26 years old. One day, she decided it was time to get her pre-baby body back. Her friend has told her that her sister threw up food every now and then to help keep her waistline in check. "It sparked this idea of, 'Oh, I can eat what I want and still lose weight,'" the Waukesha, Wisconsin marketing executive says. Soon after, she was bulimic — purging whenever stress became too much. When she was 43 years old, Focik began growing apart from her youngest daughter, who was 16, which threw her into a depression. She lost 30 pounds in just five weeks, consuming diet sodas and Crystal Light ice cubes along with veggie burgers occasionally. "People were complimenting me on my weight loss, and I was on such a ride," she remembers. "I had so much energy and determination. I felt like I was the strongest woman in the world." But then she blacked out while she was driving with her daughter in the car and found herself lying on a gurney in the ER. It was then that she was forced to admit the truth: she had an eating disorder and desperately needed help.
It's not just a disease for teenagers. 
Eating disorders affect people of all ages.
  Eating disorders are commonly linked to teenagers, not necessarily 40-something mothers. But that doesn't mean the life-threatening illness is not capable of affecting people of all ages, however. In fact, a recent International Journal of Eating Disorders study discovered that 13% of women over 50 years old admitted that they binge and purge among other symptoms associated with eating disorders. Some also said they used diet pills and excessive exercise to shed pounds.  Furthermore, the National Eating Disorders Association and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that 67% of women between the ages of 25 and 45 were, despite already being at a healthy weight, trying to slim down. Also, hospitalizations that were related to eating disorders in relation to people between the ages of 45 and 65 increased 88% between 1999 and 2009. And Cynthia M. Bulik, PhD, who is the director of the University of North Carolina Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, notes that just a couple years ago, half of her ED patients were older than 30 years old. What's happening? 
Eating disorders affect people of all ages.
Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist Stacey Rosenfeld, PhD, who is the author of Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight, says that it is a response to high stress levels, which women of any age can experience. For teenagers it might be puberty related, divorcing parents or school problems. And for adults, "their bodies are changing from pregnancy or menopause, they're going through a divorce, they have a newly empty nest, or they're facing retirement," she explains. High-level jobs and re-entering the dating world can be stressful for many. "Rather than dealing with these scary emotions, they think, 'At least I can exercise more, lose weight, and feel a sense of control.'" Women are also concerned over trying to fit into their daughter's clothing. Rosenfeld says that women also feel like, as they age, they can't compete with society's obsession with youth. "Women are not allowed to look old anymore—we're all supposed to aspire to an ideal that isn't realistic," explains Dr. Bulik. And if women had an eating disorder in their past, it might reemerge with newfound stressors. This was the case for one 50-year-old woman, who was both bulimic and an obsessive exerciser in her teens and early 20s. "A few years ago, my husband and I were going through a divorce, and one night the stress got so bad that I made myself throw up," she admits. "I was so shocked—I thought I was over that phase of my life." [bctt tweet="Eating Disorders: They Don't Just Happen to Teens"] Getting treatment "There's almost a prejudice that exists along the lines of, 'Aren't you too old for this?'" Bulik says. Nonetheless, the trend is there, and Renfrew Center in Radnor, Pennsylvania, has even created a specialized Midlife Treatment Track, as a result of a 42% increase in the number of women over the age of 35 who came to get help from them. Whereas teenagers are often forced into help by their parents, grown women live in denial. Rosenfeld says that if ED-related symptoms are happening to you, like thoughts of food, calories, body image and exercise, and they are interfering with your life, then you need to seek help. Rosenfeld also notes that the effects of these disorders are even more concerning in older women, who are at a heightened risk for weakened bones and heart damage. Hope is not lost. 
Eating disorders affect people of all ages.
Folcik is now 52 years old. Her ER visit had her dealing with intense inpatient treatment, which was then followed by a 10-week residential program. She has been in recovery for six years. "I learned who I was, that I had value that extended beyond my weight. I learned how to identify my strengths, and even though I now weigh more than before, I feel lighter than ever, because I got rid of so much baggage I had been carrying around for so many years." Eating disorders can definitely come at any age, and they can be a result of both environmental and genetic causes. But not everyone who deals with stress will go through this. And for those who have dealt with it and are now in recovery, many can attest to finding a newfound confidence and positive body image. "In my 20s, how I looked was three-quarters of the pie chart," notes Stephanie Dolgoff, who is the author of My Formerly Hot Life: Dispatches from Just the Other Side of Young. "Today, I may look less 'hot' than I did in my 20s, but now that's a quarter of the pie chart, at most. I'm awesome at work, I've got great families and friends, all the stuff that makes a person a person." Do you know anyone above 30 who dealt with an eating disorder? Source: Prevention [caption id="attachment_120647" align="alignleft" width="100"]@BodyRockTV @BodyRockTV[/caption] [caption id="attachment_120646" align="alignleft" width="100"]@BodyRockOfficial @BodyRockOfficial[/caption]

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