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Yoga helps heal 70-year-old woman's bulimia

At 70 years old, Joy Tapper has had the time to fulfill many roles: mother, wife, widow, entrepreneur and grandmother. But for 55 years, she hid a part of herself behind those public identities. She was also bulimic. "It had been with me all the time, I never thought that I would get rid of it," Tapper says.
That is, until a recent breakthrough involving yoga. For Tapper, the moments on the mat let her "work in," instead of workouts focused on appearances and competition. It has helped bring her peace when for so long she had none. "I probably should be dead," says Tapper, who has been hospitalized twice and prescribed a myriad of antidepressants. "Fifty-five years is a long time!" She tried to stop the cycle before, but the urge to control her life through binging and purging never really went away. Certainly, she had many stressors in those five decades. There were three marriages, with one ending after her alcoholic husband killed himself. Then there was a struggle with one of her children, who was addicted to heroin. "Of course I didn't look like it," Tapper says of her eating disorder. "I'm a highly efficient, confident person with this deep, shameful secret." Tapper graduated from college at 40, founded a popular Tampa boutique (Joy's Shoe Salon) and sold it all to start a new career as a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch. Then she found yoga. But she admits it was just one tool that helps her overcome her troubles. "Yoga by itself isn't a cure-all for everything; it can't be," Tapper says. "Yoga will help with addictions of all kinds, but that has to be coupled with something else." For her, the other catalyst to change was a Landmark Education seminar. She began to realize that she could indeed have some control of her addiction, and she started to become hyperaware of her trigger: stress. "All of a sudden, it occurred to me it was just a brain pattern," Tapper says. She'd get high off a gallon of ice cream and Diet Coke or other pairings that made vomiting easier. It became her drug, whether she was at home or on a luxury Alaskan cruise. "When you need to self-medicate, you need to hide -- you lose yourself in that drug," Tapper says. She celebrates the healing powers of yoga now. "It's mind, body, spirit; if you can't be healthy in one of them you can't be healthy in any of them." Tapper knows she's one of few in her age group to talk openly about bulimia. Recent studies have shown that eating disorders among seniors have increased, according to the Remuda Ranch Programs for Eating and Anxiety Disorders. So Tapper hatched a big plan to raise awareness of the disease she's lived with for so long. She brought together three yoga studios to host a free yoga class April 10 in downtown Tampa's Curtis Hixon Park with the idea of bringing attention to USF Hope House for Eating Disorders, which offers free support groups and outpatient services. She also found other yogis in the community who had struggled with body image and eating disorders in their life, and together they shared their stores before the event, which drew close to 200 people and raised about $2,000. Tapper's next move? Yoga teacher. She's currently enrolled in a 200-hour certification program. "I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life," she says. "I'm happy with who I am."

Daniela Velazquez's yoga column appears every other Saturday in 4you. Become a fan of her on Facebook. She can also be reached at (813) 259-8074 or dvelazquez@tbo.com.

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