When my mother retired, something shifted in her mind. I loved Mum dearly but without the demands of work and a young family, she slowly let herself go and became far less active.
Within just a few years my mother had gone from a healthy Size 12 to a Size 22. She relied on my father more and more to get around, and she soon needed a mobility scooter.
I still believe if my mother had stayed active, gone outdoors, visited the shops or even done volunteer work she could have prolonged her life. She may not have spent over a decade confined to her lounge room chair.
Unfortunately, I never realised that my mother influenced my own health so much. Watching my mother engage less with life meant that my greatest fear became turning into her.
I was terrified of gaining excessive weight, losing the ability to move around or just slowing down too much. After my mother died, I joined a cycling club and began writing down everything I ate.
Every day, I cycled for over an hour. I’d plan my breakfast, lunch and dinner, then not allow myself to have extra snacks. Soon my food intake grew smaller and my bike-rides were longer.
My husband was worried. “You’re looking too thin”, he said. “This dessert isn’t going to kill you!” I spoke with my GP about all the thoughts I was having about my weight. She said I could be anorexic.
Yes, anorexia affects older women too. I was shocked and sad that I had let my fears take over in this way. Feeling ashamed, I sought out a counsellor to help make sense of what I was doing to myself.
Anorexia is an awful mental health condition to have, because often your anxiety about one issue controls how you eat, exercise and view your body.
Working with a counsellor helped me realise that my mother’s unhealthy choices had propelled me too far in the other direction. I was lucky my condition hadn’t advanced too far before I spoke with a professional.
Very, very slowly I got back to my old self though. I learned to enjoy food again, with the help of my husband’s Italian cooking. I stayed with my cycling club, but only went out three times a week.
It was extremely hard to get rid of the negative thoughts in my head, but I reminded myself that being thin doesn’t necessarily equal being healthy. I didn’t want to end up immobile because my bones were brittle, or body was weak.
Sharing my story is important because the past decade has seen the number of eating disorders (like anorexia and bulimia) increase amongst older women.
The good news is there is help available, all you need to do is take that first step of speaking to someone. It’s very hard to dismiss those negative, anorexic thoughts but your happiness is truly worth it.
Respecting your body in your sixties is less to do with how much you weigh, and more to do with your own personal wellbeing.