Tuesday, July 03, 2012

seniors with eating disorders

The headline, "Eating disorders can hit at any age" snagged my attention and I read the fascinating intro:

"Some starve themselves all day so that by night, the restraints are off; once the eating starts, they can't stop.

"Some women who never had an eating disorder in their lives are suddenly engaging in bulimic behaviours: throwing up, restricting food intake and exercising obsessively.

"Others are abusing hormones—the very pills women once abandoned in droves over studies linking their use with an increased risk of invasive breast cancer—to try to stop the weight gain that is their body's normal response to menopause.

"It is the new look of eating disorders: middle-aged and older women who are struggling with abnormal eating behaviours and attitudes once only seen in girls and younger women" - Susan Kurkey, "Eating disorders can hit at any age," The Province, June 22, 2012.

The article goes on to describe research and conclusions (U.S.-based but I'm sure applicable to Canada too). I'll list some of the highlights Kirkey touches on:
  • This new preoccupation with weight has seeped into even the Baby Boomer generation (defined as those born in 1946 and on).
  • There are few eating disorder services for this age group.
  • A main cause for this fixation on appearance and weight is what this group (we) are being told in the media and commercials:
- That we shouldn't look like we're aging.
- That we should do almost anything to hide the signs of aging.
- That with enough effort, we'll remain young-looking forever.
  •  While at the same time
- Our metabolism is changing
- Hormone changes mean we're packing on weight in different places. (The article reports complaints about disappearing waistlines.)
  • Social factors also contribute to this trend:
- Divorce
- Empty nest
- Re-populated nest (when adult kids come home to live with us again—sometimes even bringing their kids).
- Sandwich stresses of caring for our own kids and aging parents at the same time.
  • Symptoms of an abnormal fixation on weight and appearance encompass a wide range and can include:
- Weighing every day
- Intentionally skipping a meal a day.
- Constantly counting calories and fat grams.
- Excessive exercise.
- Binge eating
- Purging (making yourself vomit after you've eaten).
- Abusing laxatives.
- Using diuretics.

If we find ourselves here, it's important to get help. Because continued disordered eating can lead to osteoporosis, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular problems. Anorexia has been associated with sudden cardiac arrest.

I don't know about you, but I relate to such behavior more than I'd like to admit. It's nice to know that I'm sort 'normal' for my age. Yet I ask myself, shouldn't the fact that I am a Christian with Jesus as the Lord of my life make a difference to all this?  While one aspect of that is being a good steward of my body (giving it regular exercise and proper nourishment) too much focus on how I look is a sign something's out of whack.

If my eating disorder is an aspect of relieving stress (and I used to eat to relieve stress, so I know a bit about that), perhaps I need to get to the root of my anxiety, remembering God invites me to bring it to Him. My life verse (Philippians 4:6,7) has been a constant reminder to me about this:
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."

If my eating disorder is an aspect of wanting to look good for self esteem, perhaps Romans 12:1-2 is a good reminder. Here it is from The Message version:

"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."
As you think about these things, I'll leave you with two thought-provoking bits from Dale Hanson Bourke's book Embracing Your Second Calling.

Something to do:
"Have you had a physical lately? Do you have a doctor you can talk to about what you are experiencing physically and mentally as you go through this stage of life? Find a doctor you can trust and be sure he/she takes time to listen to your concerns" - p. 39.
Something to think about:
"In what ways have you been proactive in life and how have you been reactive? As you look at the next phase of life, how would you define a healthy proactive outlook?" - p. 40.
  • Do you see any aspects of yourself described in this article? 
  • What are you doing to maintain a balance between letting yourself go and being over-concerned about your physical appearance, especially as it relates to weight?

Read the entire article: Eating disorders can hit at any age
Related articles:  
- Fact sheet on eating disorders
- Why it might be healthier to accept our natural sizes

Violet Nesdoly / poems
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