Anorexia Affecting More Adults

Stress leads to the development of eating disorders

Most people think about teenage girls when the subject of eating disorders comes up, but adult eating disorders are increasing.

"As stress started increasing in my life, part of it was the divorce, part of it was work, the finances, things like that. I started starving myself," said Barbara Delaney.

At about 40 years old and standing at 5 feet 5 inches, she weighed just 85 pounds.

"I just didn't eat," she said. "I just couldn't eat, and sometimes when I did eat, I would get sick."

Anorexia was a way to cope with everything happening around her, she said, adding that it gave her control of something in her otherwise chaotic world.

That chaos, the stress of family, work and finances, is pushing more middle-aged people, especially women, into developing eating disorders, experts say.

"You have to be the perfect mom," said licensed social worker Katherine Reyes. "You have to be the perfect worker. You have to be the perfect spouse, the perfect house, the perfect body. There's a lot of pressure for women to do it all."

Reyes specializes in eating disorder treatment here in D.C. and said she's seeing more and more adults at her practice.

"Their eating disorder emerged with some current life stress, the birth of a baby, trying to lose pregnancy pounds, a divorce," Reyes said.

While eating disorders have severe physical effects for everyone, they're even more dangerous in adults, she said. It's because a lack of nutrition can make older bones brittle, even weaken the heart. Barbara Delaney said at one point, she could have died.

"The pivotal point was me and my daughter Molly were in Costco and I couldn't even lift one of those 24 packs of diet Coke," Delaney said. "I was not strong enough. Going up and down a flight of stairs was hard. My body was shutting down."

Delaney spent a few weeks at an in-patient program for treatment, and now weighs about 105 pounds. She said she's not sure if she'll ever fully recover.

"I think of myself as the same, when I was 85 pounds and when I was back in college and weighed 155 pounds," Delaney said. "I'm still the same Barb no matter what. Everyday is a battle. Everyday I wake up and think lets just get through. Let's just eat a little bit."

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