An often-overlooked problem
Eating disorders are hard on the body, especially over a long period of time. They can be fatal, and even in less dire cases they can lead to serious heart problems, digestive problems, tooth decay, and osteoporosis, which is already a major concern for postmenopausal women.
“We’re actually more concerned about the physical consequences for women as they get older, because their bodies just don’t bounce back as well,” Bulik says. “All of those systems start not being as robust as we get older. … Add an eating disorder and the risk goes up.”
The standard treatment for disordered eating typically includes psychotherapy, as well as counseling about nutrition and eating habits. Women need to be proactive about seeking care, Maine says, since doctors—and especially primary care physicians—often overlook problematic eating behaviors in older women.
“There’s really a lot of help available, but women have to find it,” Maine says. “It’s not going to come to them, unfortunately.” A good place to start, she adds, is the National Eating Disorders Association (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org).
Butrym sought treatment in 2003. She recovered, but her life stresses snowballed: She failed to receive workers’ compensation for her accident injuries, and she wound up losing her job in a hospital lab. She started purging again, and she has cycled out of inpatient and outpatient treatment since then.
Butrym is currently in recovery, and going back to school to study public health. “I’m excited about having a new career and having a new life,” she says. “That’s what recovery and therapy is all about, … realizing and seeing that you’re more important than that number on the scale, or the number of wrinkles you have. You have more to give people than that superficial life.”