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healing for eating disorders

  • Eating disorders have been considered the province of teenage girls and young women. Not anymore. Today, they are diagnosed in girls as young as 4 yrs. old and women well into their senior years.
  • No doubt, our cultural ideals and celebrity icons are a breeding ground for negative body image and eating disorders. But it may be hard to say the media causes an eating disorder. Blaming an ED solely on the media may minimize the seriousness of the illness.
  • According to the National Eating Disorders Association there are many causes: genetic, psychological, interpersonal, social, biological and spiritual factors.
  • A 2006 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry stated genetics accounts for half of all eating disorders. Some studies have shown that if a relative has an eating disorder, a person is more likely to develop one--which can also be attritbuted to learned behavior from a parent.
  • An eating disorder is like an addiction: it is most often about distraction from anxiety or emotional pain. Bottling emotions can lead to a destructive cycle of using food as a distraction because it diverts the person from daily stressors, toxic feelings, unpleasant memories and grief. Diets won't work don't work until you address the underlying symptoms.
  • Dental and health problems are devastating: heart and kidney damage, intestinal ulcers, loss of menstrual cycles, among other harmful side effects, many of which are permanent.
  • "When I look in the mirror, I actually see a fat person. I see fat where obviously there’s no fat. I can see other people the way they are, but I cannot view myself that way." -- anorexic patient
  • Triggers: Social pressures, low self esteem, depression, loneliness, abuse, troubled relationships and family life, are just few of the factors.
  • Eating disorders are easy to fall into and nearly impossible to control. If you recognize these signs, ask your doctor. You may save someone's life.
  • Warning signs: Fear of weight gain, frequent dieting, over-exercising, laxative abuse, loss of menstrual period, and binge eating usually followed by purging (a bathroom visit).


christian eating disordersEating Disorder "Need Assessment" Survey (NAS)

christian eating disordersMy friend/loved one has an eating disorder--what can I do?

The Three Most Common Eating Disorders ~

An eating disorder is an unhealthy way of using food to cope with psychological stress. Eating disorders affect over ten million American adolescent girls and women and over one million American boys and men. In addition, approximately 70 million individuals worldwide struggle with this disorder. In a single person's lifetime, approximately 50,000 individuals will die because of this terrifying disease. Eating disorders know no race, age, class, or gender. They can happen to anyone. Eating disorders have been present in children as young as three years old and in adults as old as ninety. However, typical age of onset is anywhere from 12-18 years of age.

Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Each is an addictive process in which food is the "drug of choice". It is important to understand that these disorders may overlap or occur sequentially in a person’s life. For example, a compulsive eater may become overweight in early teenage years and then diet rigorously could then lead to anorexia, followed at a later stage by bulimia, adopted as an easier way of coping.

Individuals suffering from anorexia and/or bulimia generally feel that they have little in common with those suffering from compulsive overeating, which is why you find groups for one or the other. An eating disorder is the physical expression of emotional distress, and is becoming a more frequent response to the external and internal pressures experienced by young people today.

It is an addictive behavior pattern in which the person compulsively uses the ‘drug’ of his/her choice, either excessive food intake or starvation, as a means of repressing or suppressing her feelings rather than facing and feeling them. Preoccupation with food and weight is a means of coping with unresolved stress and the difficulties of everyday living. The problem of having an eating disorder becomes the substitute for the underlying problems. The first critical need for a person recovering from food addiction is establishing a healthy pattern of eating behavior.

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Let's look at the various faces of the monster called an eating disorder. Today there are three core eating disorders identified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV-anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.


Anorexia Nervosa
is a serious, potentially life-threatening disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. Individuals with anorexia have an intense fear of being fat. They have a relentless preoccupation with dieting and weight loss that results in severe emaciation and sometimes death.

One teen admitted, "I started to just eat less and less, then I started to feel fat for eating an apple a day. I wanted to be beautiful and I wanted people to notice how thin I was and I wanted to be somebody, but in the end I ended up wrecking my future."

One aspiring model's body is so starved that she physically smells because her body literally is eating itself alive. Anorexia is brutal. It is chronic in 20 to 30 percent of cases. This eating disorder has one of the highest mortality rates of all forms of psychiatric illness, which makes effective treatment extremely important. One teen ged,

I'm at 150 calories today. I'm exercising as soon as I get home. I plan to skip dinner. I need to reach my next goal weight by Monday, or else. Today my heart rate was 53 before lunch, about 56 now. My fingernail beds are not blue, exactly, but they're not pink any more. And the sad thing is these symptoms thrill me. Like many of us, I have romantic ideals. I want to be the Poetic Waif, the starving artist, a princess, a fairy, something ethereal. I want to be Shakespeare's Ophelia, a nostalgic, tragic figure, living in a world of air and dreams. Instead, I have always felt the opposite. I am logical, earthy, contained, responsible, boring. Ana [anorexia] is how I deal with my failures, Ana is how I achieve my dreams. I am choosing to live in a dream world, because I cannot live in the real one. I'm slipping slowly away.


Predisposing factors, such as anxiety, perfectionism, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies may precede the onset of anorexia. These are characteristics often seen among adolescents and young adults as they make their transition into adulthood, the same age group that is most affected by anorexia. Changes in hormones triggered by puberty may promote these tendencies.

Bulimia Nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of bingeing and purging. Purging may be self-induced vomiting or ingesting large amounts of laxatives designed to eliminate the effects of binge eating.

Bulimia may be used to distract from other life issues, to control emotions, to ease the stress of major life transitions, or to reduce image pressure, including pressure to succeed.
Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga made news by talking about her struggles with bulimia. She follows a long list of celebrities who have publicly disclosed their battle with an eating disorder. What is important about her admission is the potential for destygmatizing bulimia, sometimes thought of as anorexia's ugly step-sister. There is a hierarchy even among those with eating disorders that the "best" or "purist" eating disorder is anorexia. Those struggling with symptoms of bulimia often feel ashamed of their disorders and are secretive about them.

I have spoken with many young females that think they will just "outgrow" bulimia. I had no idea this monster would consume and destroy my life for seventeen years. The torment of this bondage is severe for many females they truly desire to die.

Exercise Bulimics instead of vomiting, purge on exercise after eating in order to burn the calories consumed. Exercise Addiction is slightly different. Also known as compulsive exercise or anorexia athletica or exercise dependence, It is about consistent excessive exercising. The person feels compelled to increase the exercise level until it dominates their daily life, all in a desperate attempt to burn off calories and lose weight. It is not unusual for a girl to get up at 3 or 4 A.M. to exercise for hours before school.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is the most underestimated but widely occurring eating disorder. It is characterized by recurrent binge eating, but without the counteracting use of purging. It is similar to compulsive overeating, but without the constant fantasizing about food. BED appears to be linked to very specific histories of childhood sexual or emotional abuse, which in turn lead to self-criticism.
If you are an American Idol fan, you know the talented Kara DioGuardi, one of the judges. Before her music-biz success, the songwriter and producer confessed she'd get up to eat in the middle of the night. "I had kind of a binge eating disorder where, instead of dealing with my emotions, I would stuff them down with food." Kara said.

Other Eating Disorder Terms

EDNOS: Approximately 70 percent of patients diagnosed with eating disorders do not have bulimia or anorexia, according to criteria from the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). Instead they suffer from what are known as Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified-illnesses defined by what they aren't. Dr. Whyte said EDNOS causes more deaths than either anorexia or bulimia.

Disordered Eating falls into the EDNOS category. It is a term used by some to describe a wide variety of irregularities in a person's eating behavior. A person's focus is on their body and diet but they do not meet the medical criteria for bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating. They, too, eat, or don't eat, for emotional reasons. Diet addiction is a new term used to describes people who jump from one fad diet to another without ever stabilizing their weight or learning healthy eating habits. This destructive behavior has negative health consequences and can even contribute to the development of more serious eating issues.

Selective Eating Disorder (SED): Today, people who drastically restrict their menu choices may be suffering from SED, defined as eating a very narrow range of foods for a number of years. According to the University College at London’s Institute of Child Health up to 20 percent of children below the age of five years are picky eaters and some of them grow up to be SED adults who restrict, avoid, and even fear certain foods. Sufferers of SED have an inability to eat certain foods based on texture or aroma. "Safe" foods may be limited to certain food types and even specific brands. In some cases, a person will exclude whole food groups, such as fruits or vegetables. Limiting a variety of foods groups does not provide sufficient nutrition for optimum health. Not a lot is known yet about SED. Some psychologists say SED is a combination eating disorder, phobia and addiction problem. SED will be included in the eating disorders category of the forthcoming 2013 DSM.

I want to speak to the issue of addiction-generally speaking. How does it start? In layman's terms, the pleasure center of our brain gets out of balance when we first indulge in a substance or an action-we get a "high." Consequently, an insatiable desire for more results. Since the average person enjoys a "high" and thrill, why doesn't everyone get addicted? The "got to have it" feeling isn't created from the actual substance or act. Addiction is about distraction from anxiety or emotional pain. It diverts the person from daily stressors, toxic feelings, unpleasant memories and grievous losses.

An addiction is idolatry when it replaces our relationship with God. Bottling emotions can lead to a destructive cycle of using food as a distraction. Our enemy knows this and baits us with a "designed especially for you" piece of bait. I personally dislike using the word addiction because the addiction model says you'll always be an addict and never recover-it's your identity. If I believed that, I wouldn't be recovered. Recovery means recovering God's plan for our lives and claiming our identity in him!

The following terms are pop-psychology terms, not considered to be official medical diagnosis's but may still be used as a diagnosis by some practitioners who have documented the damaging results of the condition seen in their practices.

Drunkorexia: is a combination of alcoholism, bulimia and anorexia, all under the guise of a glamorous party lifestyle and mostly affects women. It is particularly prevalent on college campuses. To counter the high choleric intake accompanying binge drinking, young women with the disorder starve themselves before going out. After drinking large amounts of alcohol, they often overeat, and then purge. Heavy drinking on an empty stomach makes throwing up easier. One student told HerCampus.com,

When I was a freshman, my roommate and I would consume less than 300 calories on days that we were going to go out drinking. We would eat egg whites for breakfast and then a vegan boca burger with mustard and no bun for lunch and dinner. We would also only drink water and black coffee. We would eat our meals together and encourage each other not to eat anything else. I cringe now thinking about it.

Many adolescents don't realize how dangerous this condition can be. They need to be treated both for diseases.

Manorexia: According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, the ratio of males suffering from eating disorders is increasing. They have become so common that experts coined the term "manorexia." Manorexia places a heavy emphasis on extreme measures to losing weight, especially over-exercising and starvation. Consider these statistics:

  • Males account for an estimated 10 to 15 percent of people who are diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia.
  • Experts estimate that over one million American men suffer from anorexia alone. The actual rates may be higher.
  • Estimates suggest one out of every four young males will struggle with an eating disorder.

Rock star, Daniel Johns battled anorexia and came very close to committing suicide. Another young man, Craig, after years of being called the "fat kid," decided to change his image in high school. He took control and started shedding the weight and developed anorexia. Wyatt dreamed of a career as a professional football player. At sixteen, his goal was to get into prime physical condition. "I took it too far. I started cycling thirty miles a day and skipping meals." He, too, developed anorexia.

Orthorexia Nervosa denotes an eating disorder characterized by an excessive focus on eating healthy foods. In rare cases, this may turn into a fixation so extreme it leads to severe malnutrition or even death. Experts say orthorexia affects equal numbers of men and women, and make up a significant proportion of the EDNOS group.

Vegetarians and Vegans: The vegan-vegetarianism trend has gained ground. Shirley, age eighteen, said, "A lot of girls at school say they're vegetarians to cover up their eating disorders. It's hard not to notice when all someone brings for lunch is a tiny block of tofu." The most common reasons teens give for choosing a veggie diet are weight loss and maintenance. One teen said, "I seized on the food theory of veganism to justify my desire to restrict. It was a convenient way to eliminate fat and calories."

According to Dr. Angela Guarda, director of the Johns Hopkins Eating Disorders Program, many vegans (and vegetarians) who enter her treatment center confess that their efforts to avoid animal products were really an effort to avoid food in general. A 2009 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association revealed that young adults ages fifteen to twenty-three who reported being vegetarian were, at some point, more likely to have also engaged in unhealthy weight-loss behaviors like bingeing, purging, and using diet pills or laxatives. Surveys show that the prevalence of vegetarianism among eating-disorder patients is higher than in the general population. When dieting didn't work for Jenna, age fourteen, she became a vegetarian. "I read that most of the fat you eat comes from meat." When she stopped eating meat, Jenna started obsessing about everything else she ate and couldn't stop. A recent University of Minnesota study found approximately 20 percent of vegetarian teens engaged in extreme weight-control behaviors like calorie restriction or bingeing and purging.

Dr. Marcia Herrin, founder of the Dartmouth College Eating Disorders Prevention, Education and Treatment Program tells parents not to let their kids be vegetarian until they go to college, echoing that the diet can create a "ruse" that loved ones can't see through. She said, "What's at risk is the child's growth and development, and potentially an eating disorder."

Athletes: Eating disorders are pervasive among athletes. Many have learned the image of a lean long-distance runner can be as damaging to emulate as that of a swimsuit model. Female athletes are three to six times more likely to exhibit disordered eating than their non-athletic peers. Many feel the pressure to masculinize their body. Monica Seles, famed tennis athlete, tells her BED story in her book, Getting a Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self. Not surprising, studies reveal that cheerleaders may be at higher risk for eating disorders.
Kimberly Dennis, a leading psychiatrist specializing in eating disorder treatment, believes that sports like figure skating and gymnastics often endorse behaviors more consistent with eating disorders than healthy living. Sadly, the athletes often risk injury and their health to compete at unhealthy weights. Consequently, they may suffer life-long physical and psychiatric complications. She said Olympic athletes also project an unrealistic body image that influences younger competitors and the watching public.

Eating disorders are a serious medical condition. If you notice these signs in yourself, your child, or someone you know, get help. Nearly every aspect of an eating disorder is surrounded in secrecy, making it, at least within the early stages, very difficult to detect. Due to the shame, the person typically hides the disorder. Intervention by family and friends is often necessary.

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows...He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole. --Isaiah 53:4-5

 

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