Older women seeking treatment for eating disorders

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - At The Center for Hope of the Sierras Outpatient Center, clients meet for four hours a day, seven days a week. Meals are served, and therapy sessions take place, and that's where everyone was when we visited the center.

If you think most of the clients are young women, you'd be right. But the center is seeing more and more women like Sharon Hickox come through their doors.

“I wouldn't necessarily have said inspirational, but I reminded them that, wow, this is real, and I don't want to be going through this when I am your age. When they were my age. So they were happy they were here now, trying to take care of it at a much younger age,” says Hickox, a former patient at the center.

Hickox says she had no history of an eating disorder. Then around age 43 she says she noticed her life was changing in ways she had not anticipated.

“So much of you is defined as a mother. So how are you defined as a women, or a professional? And how does that tie into society's idea of what I should look like?” asks Hickox.

Experts say there is no one reason for the trend of older women with eating disorders. It's even hard to estimate how many women struggle with mid-life eating disorders.

“We often see in the disorder, individuals will be reinforced for losing weight, looking more healthy, those types of things. And that leads to re-enforcing the behavior. And then that just becomes a bigger issue and a cycle,” says Erin Snell, a licensed social worker who works at the Center for Hope of the Sierras.

For Hickox, it all started with running.

“Ran, and it was a good stress relief also. But then it kept going and I kept running more. We had a rowing machine and I was rowing on that pretty soon. That became the way I organized my day to make sure I got that in. I remember sitting in my car one day actually crying, and thinking I may have an eating disorder. I think this is out of control,” says HIckox.

Experts say midlife brings its own set of factors that can have a powerful impact on the onset or reemergence of an eating disorder.

They include:

Relationship problems
Death of a parent
Career problems
Empty-nest syndrome
Emotional and psychological changes brought on by menopause.

Regardless of age, patients with eating disorders find their self-worth comes from physical appearance and that physical appearance never quite measures up. But as Hickox found, you can reclaim your life.

“You just build up that ability to fight the thoughts. And believe in yourself, and believe in the program. And start to just walk the path back to, you know, a good life,” she says.