“Eating disorders.” Most of us instantly picture a teenaged or college aged girl when we see those words. After all, doesn’t age immunize women from the body image, weight concerns and eating disorders that plague the younger years? Truth is that, more than 15 per cent of women at midlife and beyond suffer from eating disorders, surpassing the number affected by breast cancer! These are serious, life threatening and heartbreaking illnesses at any age. This story needs to be told and Betsy Brenner does just that.
The Longest Match: Rallying to Defeat an Eating Disorder in Midlife is a beautifully written and heartfelt memoir illustrating the trajectory from early childhood, through adolescence and early adulthood, to midlife when eating disorder thoughts and behaviors took over the author’s life. Journal entries reveal occasional negative thoughts about her weight or food in younger years, but the stressors of midlife knocked this high functioning woman off her feet.
Like adolescence and young adulthood, midlife is full of tricky transitions. Unlike earlier in life, however, no one is there to catch you when you fall or to coach you back on your feet. Today women feel pressure to do it all and do it perfectly, constantly multitasking at home, and outside of home, taking care of their children and marriages, their extended families, ill and aging parents, all while trying to maintain an identity of their own.
Eating disorders can devour a woman at any age, but Betsy Brenner rallied, using every resource she had. Thank you, Betsy, for being painfully honest about your experiences and your pain, and for explaining the many factors that make a woman vulnerable to eating disorders during midlife. Thank you for finding the courage to access help, for trusting the treatment process and for inspiring other midlife women to believe in themselves. Thank you for telling your story so women struggling with an eating disorder at midlife will know they are not alone and will see a path to recovery. And, most of all, thank you for staying in the match – the “longest match” ever – and winning.
Margo Maine, PhD, FAED, CEDS, is a Founder and Adviser of the National Eating Disorders Association and Founding Fellow of the Academy for Eating Disorders. Author of seven books, most recently Pursuing Perfection: Eating Disorders, Body Myths, and Women at Midlife and Beyond and recipient of the 2015 NEDA Lifetime Achievement Award, she lectures internationally on eating disorders and practices in CT.
Betsy Brenner is an eating disorder recovery speaker and peer support mentor. Her memoir, The Longest Match: Rallying to Defeat an Eating Disorder in Midlife, was released May 2021. Betsy is a long-time high school tennis coach. She and her husband Jeff reside in Barrington, Rhode Island and are the parents of three grown children. Details: www.betsybrenner.com
A message from The Diary Healer founder, June Alexander
I was a lot like Betsy Brenner when I was a little girl, even though we were growing up on opposite sides of the world, decades apart. Sensitive and conscientious, I wanted everyone around me to be happy. I tried especially hard to please my parents.
As with Betsy, parental approval and nurturing in the way that I needed was hard to come by and, when anorexia nervosa developed, the layers of unmet emotional needs and fractured relationships became more complex and more difficult to suppress. Journal-writing became the only coping tool for surviving and trying to make sense of mounting expectations and pressures. If only our respective families had known that, beyond the misunderstandings and misinterpretations, their high-functioning, high-achieving child was crying out for their love and acceptance.
I applaud Betsy for encouraging women, of all ages, to reflect on their relationship with their parents. Through sharing her story, Betsy demonstrates how we can re-frame our painful experiences with self-love and self-compassion. It is never too late to start this process.
The Longest Match: Rallying to Defeat an Eating Disorder in Midlife shows that, at every age, we can grow and find peace and fulfilment through bravely reaching out, connecting with like-minded others, and doing the hard work required to heal our childhood wounds. It is never too late to start.
Thank you, Betsy, for showing us that we, too, can be free.