Mid-Life Eating Disorders: The Desperate Housewives Syndrome

Once thought of as strictly an adolescent/teenage phenomenon has seen a rampant surge of women in their 30’s, 40’s and older who struggle with eating disorders. You may not be aware, but over one-third of individuals diagnosed with eating disorders are over 30 years of age.

Eating disorders are symptoms of depression and anxiety along with a whole host of other psychological issues including mental health conditions resulting from trauma, including major life transitions. Depression and anxiety, along with personality disorders, are consistently found in individuals with eating disorders and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). They range the spectrum of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. Eating disorders have both medical and psychological involvement and the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Further information on the diagnoses and classifications of eating disorders, along with co-occurring disorders, may be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) IV-TR.

In adults, you find those who may have been diagnosed and treated as adolescents, teens or young adults, but relapsed in midlife due to a life-stressor. Others are new onset cases brought on by societal pressures to look like their counterparts in favorite television shows, such as Desperate Housewives. The largest cohort of adult-onset eating disorders–a whopping 94%–have had an underlying issue that may go back to adolescents but these individuals never had treatment–or effective treatment.

Marie Fox, LMSW, RYT licensed master’s social worker and registered yoga teacher of Reconnect with Food® at Inner Door Center, Royal Oak, Michigan explains, “It is not a lack of willpower that is the issue here. This is a clear example of adults who have spent years obsessing about food and over time have developed patterns of repetitive behaviors and false images that result from the shame that develops due to fears and misconceptions. These things happen because of some sort of emotional injury at a young age, causing a disconnect from one’s inner truth, from one’s true self. Here the inner child holds onto these behaviors and images, taking them along into adulthood, and making life decisions based on beliefs and images that have not been able to develop in a way that allows the person to express their true self. The resulting pressures of trying to be everything to everyone–the perfect mom, wife, and businesswoman, while trying to look like Madonna at the same time–can be very triggering. In addition, this generation of individuals with eating issues is also caring for aging parents, pulling them in even more directions. The development, resurgence or continuation of an eating disorder for these persons is surely a scream for help as well as a search for an identity, and all in combination with underlying emotional and psychological issues that need to be addressed.”

What to do if you suspect you or your loved one has an eating disorder? In the following series of articles, you will read the stories about mid-lifers who have struggled and obtained help. You will also learn about different treatment options available. You no longer have to suffer in silence. The ASK In Your Face Team is here to support you!

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  1. I only want to post a quick hi and say thank you for your enlightened post. I keep searching through the web for some kind of good letter like this, or at least a website. That covered what i wanted to read about.
    Thank you.

    • Where do I find support to deal with this situation in my wife and how I see it effecting our daughter?

      • Hi Bill – Thank you for reaching out for support – you are a courageous man indeed. We have listed many resources for treatment and recovery in and around Michigan. You will find this list on our Home page under Health Matters. Depending where you are located I can recommend a specific therapist or treatment facility. You can also contact the National eating disorders assoc. online for support about approaching your wife with this serious illness which as you may know can also have a dangerous impact on your daughter. Please contact me for additional support and recommendations. We are here to help you! Thank you Warmly, Allison Kaplan

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