Being in your 30’s doesn’t mean, “you’ve arrived,” that you have what you have dreamt of, that you know the direction you’re headed, or that you have security in your life. It also doesn’t guarantee that you’ve surpassed the stage of life that makes you vulnerable to developing an eating disorder or that you even recovered from the eating disorder you developed earlier in your life.
Contrary to what most think, eating disorders are not an adolescent mental health issue. As NEDIC indicates, “eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and socioeconomic statuses.” And because eating disorders are not about food or about the body—but instead about much stronger, deeper, emotional and psychological issues (at any age). For women in their 30’s, this is especially the case at a time of life when they are confronted with so much to consider and with so many expectations. Food and the body; therefore, become the tangible place to act out these unknowns.
Signs you may have an eating disorder
1) You are not living the life you want
2) You hold in your feelings and your secrets
3) You lack confidence
4) You have a strong self-critic
5) You constantly think about food (what to eat/not to eat, how much you ate, when
to eat next, what, where…?)
6) You are very rigid in your daily life practices
7) You have very strict rules about food, exercise, etc.
9) You isolate, cancel easily
10) You are so high-functioning no one would ever know that you struggle
In speaking more exclusively about those who are higher functioning in their illness (not acutely ill), having an eating disorder and being in recovery in your 30’s tends to look different than it does in your 20’s or in your teens.
The benefits of being in your 30’s in recovery
The extra time on the planet (generally) enables a greater level of self-awareness and maturity—the ability to be introspective, move through adversity, take responsibility, be more trusting of change, and have the cognitive capacity to unpack the deeper pieces that eating disorders are rooted in. In addition, often teens and women in their 20’s are resistant or forced into treatment and therefore longevity in recovery is much more questionable. But women in their 30’s are more likely initiating treatment themselves, asking for help, and wanting wellness so this can set up a very different trajectory for healing—a commitment to healing.
The challenges of being in your 30’s in recovery
Because the presence of eating disorders is generally long-term, many women move through the various stages of their lives without having ever actively addressed their eating disorder harm. Moreover, the likelihood, then, is that these patterns are more strongly embedded by the time women reach their 30’s, making them harder to break. This can mean that when women become moms, are pregnant and/or begin work, etc., their harmful behaviours with food and their body remain or worsen. Women who are high functioning in the world, despite the presence of the illness, have developed a strong ability to hide and “normalize” their eating disorder patterns often for years and without anybody knowing. Recognizing these as maladaptive ways of being can therefore be difficult to admit to, and to change.
If culturally, we could open up our perceptions about the truths of eating disorders then there would be more freedom and space for those who are suffering in the shadows. If this could shift, women in their 30’s, who are high functioning in their illness, may feel more compelled to claim space in recovery.
Kyla Fox has established herself as a visionary and innovator when it comes to re-framing the way Canadians think about, and treat eating disorders. As someone who struggled herself with an eating disorder, Fox identified care gaps and fundamental flaws in the treatment and recovery approach. Kyla is a Master’s level clinician with degrees from both the University of Toronto in the Masters of Social Work program as well as an Honours Bachelor of Arts Degree in Women’s Studies. She is also a member of the Academy of Eating Disorders and the National Eating Disorders Association.