Understanding eating disorders
It's not just about the food
Simon* was 15 when he first started down the anorexia road.
“The guy who had been my best friend since primary school started hanging out with other people,” he said. “I felt like I’d lost the friendship. There was no support at home as my parents left me to myself most of the time. Generally I felt very alone and isolated. I didn’t feel like I fitted in at all.”
When someone teased him for being chubby, Simon decided to do something about it.
“I just stopped eating,” he said. “I ate the tiniest meals I could – mostly salad. I felt like I could control this part of my life, even if I couldn’t control anything else around me.”
A combination of stress, low self-esteem and a lack of support led Simon to develop an eating disorder.
He’s unusual in being a male anorexic. Girls outnumber boys by ten to one in the eating disorder world. But the problem affects both male and female.
What is an eating disorder?
Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and compulsive overeating.
The symptoms are different. Anorexics refuse to eat and grow dangerously thin. Bulimics and binge eaters might not notice a drop in weight, but go through periods of overeating and then purging.
But all eating disorders are similar. Firstly, they are dangerous to your health. Secondly, they are less about food and more about issues of control and self-esteem.
If you’re a young person with an eating disorder, you probably know it (or suspect it), even if you’re not willing to admit it. You might be obsessed with counting calories or doing exercise. You might be bingeing and then vomiting when no-one else is around. You might be checking yourself out in the mirror or on the scales all the time. Whatever your symptoms are, you’re probably not telling anyone about them.
Maybe you feel like Simon. If you can control what you eat, then you can dull the pain, stuff down the bad feelings and feel like you can actually measure up to the expectations put on you.
It’s not just about food
People’s stories of eating disorders all talk about emotional pain.
Laurie’s anorexia started following “a series of losses and difficult circumstances.” LeAnne had tried for years to be the “perfect child, woman, wife and mother.” Susan never felt loved at home. “I felt invisible,” she wrote. “It was the only way I knew how to handle my emotional distress of feeling unloved and unworthy.”
Each one started out feeling in control but ended up being controlled. Each one discovered that an eating disorder is not a solution to painful feelings.
If you’re a young person with an eating disorder, it’s up to you to take the first step. You need to acknowledge the truth about what you are doing to yourself. You need to acknowledge the truth about how you feel. And you need to decide that you want to be well again.
It’s terrifying and it’s hard. But it’s possible. And you don’t have to do it alone.
What do you need for recovery?
First up, you’ll need to know that God loves you so much that he sent his son to die for you. Mediate on Romans 8:32-39 or Psalm 139. You are precious because God made you. You are loved and treasured by him and that will never change.
Next, you’ll need supportive people you can trust. People who will listen to you, not judge you for whatever painful thoughts and feelings you have. These people might be family members, church friends or professional counsellors.
You’ll need appropriate medical help, whether to get your weight back to a healthy level or to help you work out an achievable eating plan.
Finally, you’ll need to choose every day to follow the recovery path. It’s more like a marathon than a sprint, but if you take it day by day, decision by decision, God will bring you through.
Get more help
If you type ‘eating disorders’ into Google, you come up with 27 million hits. Let me help you narrow down your search.
A personal story of recovery from anorexia http://www.annapaterson.com/
Freedom from eating disorders (Christian site) http://www.freedomfromed.com/
Good information on different types of eating disorders, with a Christian testimony about recovery http://www.everystudent.com/features/acceptance.html
The best book I’ve ever read on spiritual and personal growth. It would help anyone who was serious about recovery. http://www.cloudtownsendstore.com/howpegrbo1.html
Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria http://www.eatingdisorders.org.au/
Eating Disorders Association (Qld) http://www.eda.org.au/
Eating Disorders Association of South Australia http://www.edasa.org.au/
Centre for Eating and Dieting Disorders (NSW) http://www.cedd.org.au/
Tasmanian Eating Disorder Website http://tas.eatingdisorders.org.au/
A printable brochure from the Australian Government on eating disorders http://www.mmha.org.au/mmha-products/fact-sheets/what-is-an-eating-disorder/what-is-an-eating-disorder-english/file