Through the course of my forty years as a psychotherapist I hear this question from my adult eating disorder patients. Whether they are in their thirties, forties, fifties or sixties, they ask, “Aren’t I too old to resolve this eating disorder? Isn’t it too late for me to change my life?
I’m increasingly grateful for my age. My words of encouragement will not give them a believable response. But my existence as an older woman living a satisfying life does reach them. My presence gives them hope, even in their denial of hope.
But what are the details that bring about healthy change? It’s not diet and exercise. It’s not medication. It’s not a physical makeover or an affair.
Eating disorder behaviors follow a predictable pattern. But each individual suffering from an eating disorder, or the remnants of a past eating disorder, is unique. She needs to embark on her individual journey to wholeness where her eating disorder is not necessary for living.
Yes, a path exists, but it’s circuitous and unclear.
She needs to emerge from a rigid routine and arouse her curiosity in life. Perhaps a story or a movie or a lifestyle of a person in the past or present entertains her and stimulates her wonder. How did that person come to create and live that life?
Curiosity is only the beginning. The life she sees may stimulate her imagination and hope. But she can’t copy that life. Hearing struggles people strive to overcome through their wit, imagination, emotions and courage can inspire her. Gradually her own imagination and intellect can be stirred to try new methods of meeting her own struggles.
In psychotherapy she can see and feel her healing process as she shares with her therapist and companions on their own path. She may stumble. But she she grows to see the full range of the seriousness of her struggles and develops confidence and strength to develop and move through those struggles.
Facing what is bewildering gives her a chance to understand her limitations. She makes sense out of the world she has hidden from through her eating disorder behaviors.
This is a fascinating journey that opens her imagination and opportunities she didn’t dream could exist for her. She is on the move.
Joanna Poppink, MFT, private practice psychotherapist, All appointments are virtual. E-mail for free telephone consultation.
Book: Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder