Anorexia in my forties? Eating disorders don't just affect teenagers

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"I think you have an eating disorder, don't you?"

I found myself sitting in a small dark room in a hospital with a stranger, not quite knowing what was going on. Surely he can't be talking about me? I'm 44 years old, people my age don't develop anorexia.

It all started for me in 2011. I started having a difficult time at work, became depressed and lost my appetite. It wasn't long before I started to see dramatic weight loss. Slowly my lack of appetite changed into something much more serious. The more I lost confidence the less I ate.

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Soon though that wasn't enough. I joined a gym and started to exercise excessively. Still, that wasn't enough, so I introduced laxatives. I just wanted to feel empty. I wanted to fade away and disappear.

After about six months I went to see my GP because of the weight loss. I knew I wasn't eating enough and my GP asked me to keep a food diary. It was clear from my diary that I was indeed starving myself – but nothing could be done at this stage as, due to the referral guidelines, I wasn't light enough. If I'm honest, at this point I still refused to believe anything was wrong. I believed my mood would lift and I would be able to eat normally again.

Over the next two years, I realise now, I was slowly killing myself. A walking skeleton who still wasn't under the specified weight to be referred to the specialist eating disorder team.

Then in March 2013 I had a complete mental breakdown at work. I spoke with my GP and he told me to come straight down to the surgery. I finally got an urgent referral to the Adult Mental Health Team.

After being taken into a little room for an assessment, I remember clearly talking about why I wasn't allowed to eat a chocolate chip cookie, because I wasn't good enough and I didn't deserve to be fed. That's when he quietly mentioned that he thought I might have an eating disorder.

I was told to go back to the GP and collect my prescription for anti-depressants and sleeping pills. I felt numb. Then, I was the put on a waiting list to have a further assessment with the eating disorder team, but it was another six weeks before I was assessed and confirmed anorexic.

I was then put on a waiting list for therapy. I started the therapy three months later and this lasted for a year. Unfortunately this type of therapy didn't work for me, but also during this time my husband left me and I lost my job. I felt like I had nothing to live for.

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I continued to restrict food and turned to harmful behaviours, at which point my medication was increased. I was a completely different person; I became a liar, I was angry, aggressive and tearful. I pushed everyone away from me and completely isolated myself.

Then on 22 December 2014 I was admitted to hospital on as my illness had become life-threatening. It was an awful time but it saved my life. I know I was horrible at the time but I can't thank the hospital staff enough.

I discharged myself from hospital early as I struggled to cope in the confined environment – and fortunately, I have managed to remain at a healthy weight. It has been an incredibly tough battle, and it's clear to me that anorexia is a serious illness that is misunderstood by a lot of people.

I am now in an intensive therapy programme for 18 months provided by the NHS and am hopeful that this will help. Through therapy I have been able to come to terms with the triggers of my illness, and to connect with my past childhood traumas that I thought I had coped with.

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A recent study showed 3.6% of woman in their 40s and 50s could be affected by an eating disorder. A number of risk factors, including the death of a parent and childhood trauma, can contribute to developing the illness in later life. Anorexia doesn't just affect young people, it can happen to anyone at anytime.

Many people assume eating disorders are just about losing weight and body image, but in a lot of cases it isn't . For me it was about wanting to fade away and disappear, I didn't want to be seen or noticed and I didn't want any attention. For others it can be because they feel under pressure to look thin.

I still struggle with my thoughts when I'm eating, preparing and shopping for food – but I am determined to beat this illness. I have a lot of work to do to improve my self-esteem and self-worth.

Anorexia has changed me and has taken away almost six years of my life. It's time for me to look forward.

I would urge people to get help early if they think they are suffering with an eating disorder, as the longer it's left untreated the harder it is do beat.


Julie Spinks volunteers for B-eat Media, EDS (Eating Disorders Support) and Crisis the homeless charity.


The Beat Adult Helpline is open to anyone over 18. Parents, teachers or any concerned adults should call the adult helpline. Helpline: 0808 801 0677. Email: help@b-eat.co.uk.

The Beat Youthline is open to anyone under 18. Youthline: 0808 801 0711. Email: fyp@b-eat.co.uk

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