Middle-aged Women Impacted by Eating Disorders
March 10, 2015
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Teenage girls are not the exclusive sufferers of eating disorders. Out of nearly 200 new patients in 2014 at The Renfrew Center in Charlotte, 28 percent were in their 40s, 50s and 60s.
The center's site director Paula Edwards Gayfield says, "In midlife we see women going through lots of changes in their life, whether it's empty nest syndrome or they're experiencing menopause. There could be marital concerns such as divorce."
Food becomes a tool that sufferers use to feel more in control or to numb feelings they don't want to fully experience. That was the situation for 54-year-old Nettie Reeves. She believes an unhealthy relationship with food started in childhood when she was both rewarded and reprimanded with food.
Nettie says, "So my mom would say, 'You didn't make up your bed so no ice cream for you.' And then she would also say, 'You made straight As on your report card. Let's get some cake and ice cream.'"
Throughout her adult life, food has been both a comfort during the good times as well as the bad. Nettie's job as a fitness instructor helped her keep the weight somewhat under control but it also kept her in denial because she always believed no matter how much she gained she could just work it off in the gym. She started spiraling out of control after the illness and death of her sister and mother within five years.
"I actually stuffed the food in trying to deal with the actual issues or whatever problem that was instead of really learning to deal with the issue itself."
Being an African American woman also made it difficult for Nettie to believe she had anything more than a problem with overeating.
"I think that because normally people who have eating disorders don't look like me. They just don't look like I do. I equated that to someone who is maybe anorexic, who has issues with body image in a different way. It's the same way really but they deal with it differently."
After outpatient treatment at the Renfrew Center Nettie knows now how to address her feelings in a more healthy way.
"Being able to speak to other women who were going through similar issues and communicate, I've never been able to do that before -- to actually speak about what I'm going through instead of stuffing it in my face."
And she is now more passionate about publicly sharing her story as a way of helping others she knows may be suffering.
"Especially if you are a middle-aged woman who's dealt with this for a long time like I have. At this age we should be fully enjoying life and not being institutionalized by an eating disorder."