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
You can be doubtful
And easily scolded
But the one tool
You must 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
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