Boomer blooms after beating bulimia

I was bulimic for 46 years.

My eating disorder (ED) first came to court me in 1966 when I was an out-of-state transfer student 1000 miles from my mom and dad for the very first time. My high school boyfriend had just broken up with me. I was unsure about a major field of study. And I knew no one at my new university. 

With all of the changes I was experiencing, my grounding thought was to stay thin. If I was thin, I could cope. And when I found a way to be thin, remain thin and eat all the forbidden ‘stuff; I secretly craved — well — I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Little did I know that this designated path could very likely lead me to heaven a lot quicker than desired. Little did I know that my brand of heaven would shortly turn into a hell of my own making. 

I viewed my strange eating behavior as not only benign, but highly creative. I could indulge my cravings by bingeing and I could control my weight by purging. 

And great things happened when the scale went south:

     My cheekbones became more prominent.
     My love life took off.
     My hour-glass figure became even more finely chiseled.
     I went from ordinary looking to very noticeable. 

Keeping my weight low was the key to my outer beauty. And my outer beauty was the key to my sense of self-worth.

ED would reside with me for many years — the one constant in a life of flux. He was a satisfied tenant. I was a very accommodating landlord. 

Days, weeks, month, years and decades swept by.  Marriage. Divorce. Re-marriage.                                            

Kids born, raised and left the nest. The one constant: ED. 

On the surface, I appeared serene, confident, in control and exuding vitality. Underneath, I was nervous, agitated, unhappy and lacking self-assurance. Forces I could neither understand nor control were driving me continuously and relentlessly to binge and purge daily. The one state-of-mind: feeling like a fraud. 

February, 14, 2012: It was another Valentine’s Day where I felt despondent because the loving accolades I yearned for hadn’t materialized.

I was in the half bath, downstairs, with the door locked. My husband was asleep upstairs. I had just finished throwing-up a half gallon of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. 

I flushed the regurgitated mass down the toilet, glancing at my face in the oversized vanity mirror. My skin was blotchy, my eyes — always my best feature — were bloodshot and teary. My chin sported a glop of something half-digested from dinner that I had no interest in further investigating.

“This is how you want your grandchildren to see you?” I asked myself miserably. “A crazed wreck of a woman?”

At that moment, I vowed that never, ever again would I vomit after a food binge. 

There was no band playing. No eager loving friends and family cheering me on as I crossed the finish line on my self-destructive path. I was alone, but strangely, not terrified. 

Six months before my 65th birthday, I began my journey to resolution and re-engagement by seeking professional outpatient treatment for my eating disorder. Accountability — knowing that three days a week I was an outpatient at an eating disorder treatment center – kept me in a constructive, energized and pro-active mode. 

I never once purged after that pivotal night of February 14, 2012. 

Once the emphasis was off the purging, I had to deal with many unresolved issues: 

  • the reasons behind bingeing and purging
  • the triggers that lead to bingeing and purging                                     
  • portion control and eating to soothe, rather than to fuel, my body. 

I learned that overeating to compensate for unfulfilled yearnings for more intimacy and closeness is a real threat to leading an ED-less life. I learned to listen for the call of HALT: Hunger. Anger. Loneliness. Tiredness. These are the four elements that ignite ED.                                      

During therapy, I gave a lot of thought to WHY: 

Why I spent so many years stepping on and off the scale.

Why I counted calories obsessively and critiqued my body flaws at every juncture.  

Why I stayed stuck.                                                                   

Why I was embarrassed to seek help.                                     

Why I was ashamed.                                                               

Why, as a mature woman of a ‘certain age,’ I thought I should have known better.

With ED, I didn’t have to grow into myself — face my lack of confidence and my unfocused sense of my own essence. I didn’t have to probe into why I felt unworthy. I didn’t have to learn how to channel my anger into more appropriate behavior patterns. And I didn’t have to tackle the field of conflict management. All I had to do was binge and purge to release my uncomfortable feelings.

As the years passed, I slowly became more accepting of my weight, my body image and my natural physical build. I became more comfortable in my own skin. As I succeeded professionally in myriad endeavors — sales, writing, broadcasting and speaking — my skills grew along with my self-confidence. 

I learned how to manage and make positive use of my conflicting emotions, tolerate ambivalence, embrace the ‘not neat and not tidy.’ And as my children, one by one, left the nest, I realized I was a woman with valuable knowledge and life lessons to impart through my writing and motivational speaking – especially on the subject of bulimia and midlife issues.

The shortcomings I had possessed — the shortcomings that long ago launched the binge/purge cycle — no longer existed. They had morphed into strengths. Through therapy, I realized I no longer needed the bingeing and purging as an outlet for the angst and the uncertainties of life. Through therapy, I became empowered, confident, secure and self-knowing. I also realized that my family and friends loved me not because I was perfect, but in spite of my imperfections.  

At long last, ED’s power over me was annihilated. Unfortunately, ED continues to roam around, enmeshed in the lives of many.

Jessica Setnick, MS, RD, CEDRD, published an article Eating Disorders: An Ageless Affliction on 12/28/2013. She cited the results of studies that “shatter the belief that eating disorders only afflict the young” and reveal that boomers have eating disorders at the same rate as teenagers — nearly 4 percent. 

At this juncture, there are more than five million baby boomers in Australia alone – 200,000 with disordered eating. I have many thousands of fellow sufferers in the USA. Unfortunately, ED is everywhere. My one message is:                   

PRESERVE YOUR BLOOM

You can have dreams

That falter and fail

You can have plans

That only flutter and flail

You can be flawed

Imperfectly molded

You can be doubtful

And easily scolded

But the one tool

You must possess

Utilize wisely

Fully possess

IS YOUR BLOOM

What do I mean?

Let me clarify

It’s very simple

A template to live by

Use your talents and resources

To be the best you can be.

Not perfect. Not perfect.

Not perfect you see

Choose to live without pity

Cast off despair and gloom

Concentrate solely

On Preserving Your Bloom

The best version of you

Is how I define it

It’s up to you individually

To further refine it

Preserving Your Bloom

Is self-care and awareness

Preserving Your Bloom

With your well-being

Don’t be careless

It’s not just about being fit

It’s not just about looking your best

It’s about doing your own bidding

And living life at your own behest

It’s surrounding yourself

With people who care

And giving back wisely

When others need you there

It’s the old story

Put your oxygen mask first on yourself

And take your desires, dreams and well-being

Down from that dusty, seldom-used shelf

So, sally forth

With gratitude and with glee

Preserving Your Bloom

Is the only way to BE

About Iris Ruth Pastor

Iris Ruth Pastor is an award-winning storyteller, author and speaker whose mantra is “Preserving Your Bloom” – encouraging people to use their talents and resources to be the best they can be. She shares her forty-six year-long battle with bulimia in her newest book: The Secret Life of a Weight-Obsessed Woman. 

Iris, who resides in Florida (the Sunshine State) in the U.S, travels the country enthralling audiences with actionable suggestions on living life to the fullest. Her slice-of-life column, “Incidentally, Iris,” appears in newspapers, blog sites and in her weekly newsletter. Iris is also past managing editor of the American Israelite.

What’s her passion? Raising awareness about the large number of midlife and boomer women suffering with disordered eating and encouraging them to seek professional help.

What’s her newest project? Transforming her book into a musical.

What’s her message? Being the best version of yourself.

All articles by Iris Ruth Pastor

4 Responses

  1. kathleen smith says:

    At 62, your story resonated with my experience, except I haven’t made it through to the other side… yet. A different villain – AN- 50 years. Your post offered … hope. Thank you.

  2. I was so happy to see your post. It is so important for women to know they can live beyond an Eating Disorder and heal at any age. I can’t wait to read your new book. I hope that I to can inspire women to come forward at any age and seek the help they need and deserve.

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