Updated: 03/14/2013 8:05 PM KSTP.com By: Beth McDonough
In a new study, The International Journal of Eating Disorders reveals a huge jump in the number of women seeking help over the past decade. They're professional women: nurses, teachers, computer experts. Not really the traditional stereotype for someone with an eating disorder, once considered a teenager's issue.
200,000 Minnesotans have an eating disorder.
One Twin Cities treatment center hopes the study raises more awareness.
Shelley Sloan thought of herself as a disciplined eater, "I lived on very little for a very long time."
Eventually, her eating or lack thereof, turned into a full-fledged disorder. She's a registered nurse. She knew starving herself was wrong. But at 53 years old, she also wasn't sure treatment was an option for someone her age. In years past, the problem for adult women had been overlooked. "We slipped through the cracks for so many years," says Sloan.
Wendy Blackshaw had an eating disorder in her 20s, it resurfaced later in life. She went to the Emily Program in St. Louis Park as a patient, and stayed on as an employee. She helps other women in theirs 30s to 70s, living by example. "We're smart, successful, really put together women, that's one of the traps you fall into ... from the outside you look great."
The Emily Program caters a group of classes specifically to people over 40, like Wendy and Shelley. The demand is there.
"Somewhere around 15-20 percent of our clients are over 30, it's a big segment of our population," according to Jillian Lampert. She says most suffer from compulsive overeating. The triggers are unique to middle-aged women: life stressors like times of transition, divorce, menopause, empty nest and retirement. Experts tell us the disorder is hard on a body, especially an older one. There can be irreversible heart and digestive problems, tooth decay and osteoporosis.
"It's really tiring having your life run by an eating disorder," says Sloan.
Shelley and Wendy offered to share their stories of recovery, for the sake of their health and that of other women, "I am a total example of somebody who can totally recover and have a healthy relationship with food," says Blackshaw.
While eating disorders used to be a stigma, women today are more likely to enter treatment because they realize their coping skills have backfired and they can be a model for their daughters.