Eating disorders are complex and are often misunderstood. If someone doesn’t know the underlying issues, they can often wonder “Why does this person hate food so much that they throw it up?”
This might sound strange, but most eating disorders aren’t actually about food. People with eating disorders use it as a form of control. Though they find their surroundings uncontrollable they can at least control how much or how little food they consume.
How Do Eating Disorders Happen?
Family of origin
Eating disorders develop from a range of different areas. When a parent has an unhealthy relationship with food, this relationship can be passed down to their children. If your mom is constantly counting calories or obsessing about each morsel consumed, you might begin to imitate this as well. Whatever the case may be, eating disorders often run in families.
Stress can trigger also eating disorders. Even turning on the news today can be distressing, so you can imagine the daily stress that people face. If there’s stress at home, work or school, an eating disorder is a response to managing it. Some people overeat when they are under pressure, while others tend to undereat or not eat at all.
The media and advertising world are plastered with unrealistic expectations for men and women. People who feel the pressure to attain the perfectly chiseled body or flat abs are often plagued by an eating disorder. Their goal is to become like the heavily Photoshopped version of the model on the front cover of their favorite magazine. This is a body image that is severely distorted.
Girls or boys that have experienced a form of sexual abuse in childhood can also turn to food to take control of their bodies or use it as a weapon to punish themselves for feelings of shame and guilt.
The Impact of Eating Disorders
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, an estimated 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, according to Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
Over a lifetime, the following percentages of women and men will experience an eating disorder:
0.9% of women and 0.3% of men had anorexia during their life
1.5% of women and 0.5% of men had bulimia during their life
3.5% of women and 2.0% of men had binge eating disorder during their life
Source: National Eating Disorders Association
What Do People with Eating Disorders Need?
These numbers have little significance for some, but for those who struggle with an eating disorder, or know someone who does, these numbers are alarming since each statistic represents a valuable life.
If you know someone who has an eating disorder, you can educate yourself on the specific disorder, let your friend know you are there to support them and encourage them to make use of individual or family counseling.
Group counseling can also be beneficial if the individual is comfortable sharing in a larger setting. It helps for them to know they are not the only one working through the effects of an eating disorder. Knowing that family and friends support their recovery can make the difference in their growth and healing during their journey.
Eating Disorders are a Form of Addiction
Addictions come in many forms, including eating disorders. An individual can become obsessed with a certain number on the scale or with manipulating their body to look a certain way. A condition called “Body Dysmorphic Disorder” (BDD) can also be related to eating disorders.
Anybody can identify something about their body that might be considered a flaw. Maybe it’s a crooked nose, a lopsided smile or eyes that are different sizes. It’s normal to notice our defects, but people with BDD obsess over these differences daily. These inconsistencies are prominent in their eyes and demand their time and attention.
Mayo Clinic defines Body Dysmorphic Disorder as “a mental disorder in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance — a flaw that, to others, is either minor or not observable.”
A person who is dangerously skinny can still look in the mirror and see “fat” which in reality is usually skin that has become loose on the body due to a lack of nutrients. This individual could look to cosmetic procedures to fix their perceived flaw.
The Need for Support
In Mark 2:4 a group of friends went to great lengths to ensure their sick friend received direct access to the healer. “They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus.”
In a time of need, we need friends willing to do whatever it takes to see us get well. It’s important to surround yourself with a team of people who will walk alongside you during your recovery journey.
The team typically consists of professionals, including a counselor, dietician, psychiatrist for medication purposes, and support counselors for meals if the individual is in a treatment facility. Some people who struggle with eating disorders find it helpful to stay at a treatment facility for a designated period of time and others find outpatient care to suffice for their specific purposes.
Helpful Activities when Dealing with an Eating Disorder
You may be wondering if there are any activities that help combat eating disorders? Here are activities that have been successfully implemented at eating disorder clinics.
Counseling is a tool used to discuss eating issues, body image issues, family history, and what your life looked like before the eating disorder. Freedom can be found during individual counseling.
Prayer and yoga are both excellent ways to find peace when the world seems chaotic.
Healthy amounts of exercise can boost your mood. Limiting it to three days a week, for 30-minute intervals prevents the exercise from becoming obsessive.
Structured meal times
Professionals can help you learn how to eat in a healthy, balanced way.
Appointments with a dietician to educate yourself about food, including what your body needs, how much to eat, and from what food groups you should choose can also be helpful. In addition, seeing a psychiatrist for medication to treat any concurrent disorders that may be behind the eating disorder like anxiety, depression, bipolar, drug addiction, or a combination of different issues.
Find a creative outlet
Create something you are proud to display. Spend time reading an interesting book, journaling your experiences, taking on an art project, or listening to uplifting music.
Helping others when you are becoming healthier yourself can shift your focus. Helping the next person behind you is one way to remain grateful for your life.
Prayer and Bible Reading for those with Eating Disorders
God’s love is neverending. There’s nothing we can do to exhaust His love for us. It’s natural to drift away from God, to struggle to feel His presence or to forget His promises for our lives. Here are some scripture verses to meditate on during your recovery.
To remind you how intimately God cares about your life
My darling, everything about you is beautiful, and there is nothing at all wrong with you. – Song of Solomon 4:7
You see, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. – Isaiah 49:16
And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. – Luke 12:7
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. – Psalm 139:14
To remind you that your body is a vessel for God
Don’t you know that your body is a temple that belongs to the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit, whom you received from God, lives in you. You don’t belong to yourselves. You were bought for a price. So bring glory to God in the way you use your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
To remind you that temptation has an escape
The only temptations that you have are the same temptations that all people have. But you can trust God. He will not let you be tempted more than you can bear. But when you are tempted, God will also give you a way to escape that temptation. Then you will be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13
To remind you not to worry
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayers and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7
Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. – Psalm 55:22
Keep these verses close to you. During moments of vulnerability or despair, you can remind yourself of the truth tucked away in God’s word. If you, or a loved one, is living with an eating disorder consider taking the next step and reaching out to a Christian counselor. Freedom can be found only after admitting that help is needed today.
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