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Relationships - March 2017

He says I'm anorexic


Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


He says I'm anorexic

I don't know how to get my situation resolved and hope that by writing all this it might throw some light on it for me.

I was 50 last month and have a good management job, a lovely husband and a teenage son. So on the surface of things I should be in control and successful. But I'm not sleeping, have become obsessed with my weight, which is not as low as I'd like it, and have become stressed about work - even though nothing has changed to make me feel more stressed than normal. I get snappy with the people in my office and at home.

I have managed to lose some weight by just cutting meals and eating no carbs. That is the one thing that gives me pleasure, looking at the scales each morning and seeing that I've lost weight. I get a sense of achievement from that, about the only reward I get these days.

My son is quiet and studious. At thirteen he is a keen sportsman and loves science. Once he's finished his tea he's off to team training. After that he comes home to supper and does his homework without us ever having to remind him. He is such a good son.

My husband is a worrier. He is afraid I'm becoming anorexic. He tries very hard to get me to eat more food and tells me I'll collapse if I don't give myself more 'fuel'. He also says I don't look well and that I'm now too thin. We can't agree and I get very grumpy when he starts on at me.

He's taken over cooking our evening meals and does a lot of the shopping too as he says I look so exhausted. That bit is true actually. I assume that as you get older things just become harder. I suspect he'd like me to give up my job too but that is out of the question, I enjoy it too much.

Yesterday he asked me if I was happy. Weirdly I couldn't answer. I mumbled something about still getting over the loss of my mum, but that is just an excuse as she died over a year ago and my dad died 5 years ago. I do miss them though. They were the backbone of our family really. We all adored them. My son spent a lot of time with them and they doted on him. Even my husband was devoted to them.

How can I stop this negative spiral? Our lives feel a bit blighted at the moment.

 

This does sound like a very good reason to consult your doctor. You say you don't agree with your husband about having anorexia and I feel it is important to settle that concern at the very least. If in fact you do not have this horrendously damaging illness, then you could perhaps look at some of the other possible contributing factors and make some vital decisions about how to escape that "negative spiral". 
But if anorexia were to be diagnosed, it might at least be monitored to avoid reaching the stage where bones are weakened through lack of nourishment.
Late onset anorexia is an increasingly common concern in women of 45 and older. It is not just a teenage affliction. It can be equally serious in adults. According to a recent report nearly three-quarters (70 percent ) of women over 50 are trying to lose weight. Some will go below a healthy weight and develop anorexia. Left unchecked, that can kill. There will be loss of muscle as well as body fat, and loss of energy, but also feelings of euphoria whenever the scales register further loss - and a distorted impression of how one looks and how efficiently one is coping.

In other words, judgement is affected by the addictive euphoria. In mid-life, women's bodies begin to shut down some of the protective hormone production which keeps the body well nourished and the bones strong. That process can be speeded up by dramatic weight loss and dieting. The bones soften and become crumbly - osteoporosis. Caught early, it can be held at bay with bone strengthening supplements and medication.  But if undiagnosed, it can leave the sufferer at high risk of broken bones, and if the spine is affected, it can not only be extremely painful, but is irreversible.

That is a pretty scary prospect is it not? I'm telling you this so that you can understand why it is vital to see your GP for a health check, and be honest about your weight loss and exhaustion.

My hope is that you have written before this downward spiral has begun to control you instead of you controlling it.

Let's look at the other factors making life tough for you all at the moment. 

You have a loving husband, a teenage son who seems to be getting on well with his transitional years. You like your job and you feel you're in control of it, yet you are snappy there and at home. You feel stressed at work for no apparent reason and you say that only the scale readings give you any reward these days. You come home exhausted. Your husband is probably not a natural worrier but being concerned about you so, to lighten your load, is taking over some things you used to do in the home. He asked if you were happy. Would he ask if he were sure?  He sees what you aren't able to see. Trust him. You mention how much you all felt your parents were the centre of the family. It is only a year since you lost your mum. Might there be residual grief taking energy to keep hidden? That too will tire you. You say you are obsessed with dieting and losing weight. This begins to sound like a need to take control of something because you are feeling out of control. Food is one of the classic areas to exercise control when in distress.

So, consider these questions:

  • Do you need to lose weight because you were seriously overweight for your height and age?
  • Do you have a target weight where you will definitely stop dieting?
  • Is that target weight medically recommended or one you have decided on?
  • Are you happy when you see your husband trying to do all the home tasks you used to do without even thinking about them?
  • Have you ever asked your son if he misses his grandma?
  • How did you react when your mum died?
  • When you think of your mum, how do you feel?
  • How would she react to your losing so much weight?

If any of the first five answers are 'No', perhaps this is the time to think seriously about your situation.

You have a loving husband and son - they are one of your greatest assets and you can rightly be proud of your professional and family achievements. But they are also your strength. Talk to your husband and your son, ask for their honest opinions, and then get a doctor's check-up. The exhaustion you describe is not a normal part of being fifty.

It might be that your stress will ease once you've talked it through and can see things from a different perspective. A slimming diet can be healthy if you are overweight but it will not change unhappy feelings. It is vital to eat some carbohydrate, perhaps in the form of rice or pasta. It doesn't have to be a large amount, just enough to give you body the energy it needs and stop it taking fuel from the muscle tissue.  Dieting can also be very unhealthy if you are using it to stay 'in control'.

Here are some of the helplines for you to visit to clarify how to undo that "negative spiral". I have selected just the UK help and advice offered but there are many worldwide.

It's good to talk: eating difficulties

Problems: Eating disorders - Anorexia: Advice, support

anorexia & bulimia care



You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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Relationships - December 2016

Sex and the boyfriend


Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


Sex and the boyfriend

I have surprised myself. My sixteen year old daughter has said she wants her boyfriend to stay the night, in her bedroom. We have two older sons and never felt like this about them when they said they were staying over at their girlfriends home.

My wife and I have talked and talked about this and are struggling with how to say no, to our very open and honest young daughter.
I can't bear the thought of my girl having sex with a boy under our roof. We're not religious but it really doesn't feel right.

I feel so silly making a fuss about this. At 53 I should know what to say, and why. But that just isn't happening.

We've put her off for now but we are bound to be back in this situation again. There's the Christmas and New Year holiday coming up soon and I'm getting more un-easy as time goes by.

What can I say?


Oh yes, that milestone which marks your child's next big adult step is becoming unavoidable. Many parents whose children are now adult will have been where you are now and none of them will have found it easy to know what to say or do.

All kinds of pressures are at play here.

  • Your daughter is unmistakeably sexually aware/active - she may already be having sex with her boyfriend
  • You are reluctant to make yourselves unpopular with her by saying no but are feeling very uneasy
  • You are not yet feeling ready to see your daughter leave her childhood (and implicitly you) behind
  • It is hard to see her being much more reliant on the company and the affection of someone her own age than on you
  • You are, naturally, concerned that she might get emotionally hurt if she takes such a bonding step with a boy, or that she might get pregnant, and that her education might suffer.

This is a time when you need to be strong in your parenting, strong in knowing what you can personally deal with at this point and strong enough to be open and honest with her about what boundaries you wish to put in place. Yes, you might be unpopular with her if you decide to say that he cannot share her room if he stays overnight, but that is only one of many times a parent will be unpopular. You are her parent, not her best friend who wants to go along with everything she does.

Ask yourself why you were able to cope with her older brothers telling you they were staying overnight with their girlfriends. 'Out of sight out of mind'? How did the parents of those girls handle the situation? It is perhaps still considered ok for boys to go off and do this, but when it comes to your own doorstep and your own daughter, things change.

You know your daughter. Is she street-wise in terms of looking after her sexual health? Does she know about the importance of contraception?
These are things you need to know in order to make your decision. She has shown respect for you in asking permission. She obviously cares about you. You in turn need to respect her by showing concern and interest in how she intends to stay safe. You cannot protect any child from getting hurt no matter how closely you wrap them. They have to take more risks as they enter adulthood in order to learn, and it is one of the hardest things to stand by and watch them take their first steps towards it knowing they'll make just as many mistakes as you, have as many thrills and successes, and as many regrets or hurt feelings.

Talk to her, do your 'safety checks', tell her how you are feeling and always let your daughter know you love her and will always be there, in the background, when things get tough - or when she just wants to be mum and dad's girl again for a while.

You say you have no religious belief that makes this stage of your daughter's development clear in terms of what a parent must do. Can you work out what makes this next stage hard for you? Is it the thought of the girl you see as your child having sex with her boyfriend? Is it that you fear for her emotional or physical safety? Is it that you would be horribly embarrassed?

I'm not saying that any of these things are not natural and normal. They are, totally. What I want you to consider is that they are your - not your daughter's - feelings, fears and embarrassments. She has come to you to ask, after all. You and your wife have to decide - for yourselves - how you might respond to her request. And for that you need to be clear about your reasons, so that you can explain to her and stand by them if you are telling her "no, not yet" or need to negotiate.

Get to know her boyfriend better. This is important. Once you are used to seeing him regularly in your house and you are at ease with that, then you will find there comes a time when you are ready to say ok to him staying over. You might even be the ones to suggest it!

But be prepared for the possibility that you do not warm to him. You might not be comfortable with him. If you say no after a period of seeing him often, you need to trust your instincts and be aware that to say no would then mean she could merely stay overnight at his home instead.
The truth is that you have to go through this 'barrier' and get used to your more adult daughter's next life stage. It is always uncomfortable for parents, but we all face it, go past it and survive it. The more smoothly and honestly that is done the better for your child. And you will have done your best.

Explain, negotiate, and have a wonderful Christmas and New Year holiday.




You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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