But as she grew more successful and climbed the corporate ladder, her anorexia spiraled out of control. So did her problem with heavy drinking.
"The more pressure I was under, the more titles I had, I wasn't dealing with the pressures of the job and of life in a healthy manner," she said.
Tyson said that eating disorders can be very devastating to the bodies at middle-age, when osteoporosis, chemical imbalances and other health issues crop up more easily and have an even more lasting impact on health.
"Older bodies do not have the plasticity that younger bodies do," he explained. "They can't tolerate the stresses and risks."
When Smela turned 40, she said, she decided to receive treatment for her alcoholism. She's now nearly a decade sober. But her eating disorder remained untreated, even though she knew she had a problem.
"I presumed alcoholism was more acceptable to society at my age," she said. "Having an eating disorder wasn't."
That's not an uncommon perception for middle-aged people with an eating disorder, Tyson said.
"They feel more peculiar because they're older," he said. "They think this is something for younger people, not for them. There's some shame associated with it."
Diane Butrym, 50, of Schenectady, N.Y., said such concerns are justified but must be surmounted. When Butrym went to the Renfrew Center for treatment eight years ago, she said, she found herself uncomfortable in the presence of the younger women struggling with the same problem she had.
"One of the parents said, 'Aren't you a little too old to be going through this?'" recalled Butrym, who still struggles with her eating disorder. "That was very embarrassing for me. It was really hard to overcome that."
The specific problems faced by middle-aged people with eating disorders prompted the Renfrew Center to create a separate treatment progr
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