Adult Anorexia on the Rise

June 1, 2005 -- -- When Becky Marsella turned 40, she thought she would lose a little weight, exercise and get into shape. But what started as a simple diet soon became an obsession.

Marsella, a mother and wife from Florida, dropped to a perilous 58 pounds.

"I still visualize myself as I looked when I was 40 and not until I walk by a mirror and see my physical image do I realize how thin I am," she said.

Marsella is one of an increasing number of women suffering from adult anorexia. In the past, women over 40 made up less than 5 percent of patients seeking treatment for anorexia. Now experts believe more than 10 percent of anorexics are over 40, as women deal with images of film and television actresses who remain rail thin as they age.

"Anyone over 35 or 45 has to look young, has to look slender, has to be beautiful, has to have a wonderful appearance," said Dr. Susan Ice of the Renfrew Eating Disorders Clinic. "I think that's the given within which these women are operating."

More and more people are speaking out on adult anorexia. Most notably, Jane Fonda revealed she battled an eating disorder well into her 40s.

"My food addiction has represented a misguided search for perfection and nurture to fill the emptiness," Fonda said in a recent autobiography.

Ice said there are certain triggers that occur later in life.

"Things like divorce, children leaving home, remarriage, career changes, aging parents, as well as physical changes that go on," she said.

For Marsella, who had always been a healthy weight for her 5-foot-5-inch frame, turning 40 triggered her eating problem.

"I don't think it was one specific thing," Marsella said. "It was a combination of many things, the feeling of losing control in your life."

The obsession almost took her daughter down with her.

Rachel Marsella decided to join her mother's diet and exercise routine. She was 16 years old when she started going to the gym with her mother six to seven days a week, and the 5-foot-10-inch teenager dropped down to 100 pounds.

"I was physically exhausted, I was starving, and I was so unhappy," Rachel, now 21, said.

Rachel's father, Rey, became alarmed as he saw his wife and daughter wasting away, and staged an intervention. Rachel ended her diet; Becky could not.

Becky Marsella dropped to 58 pounds, and was hospitalized.

Three years after she started her diet, she is up to 69 pounds, and struggles to eat every day.

"I still hope for recovery," Marsella said. "My family is my support and they're getting me where I need be."