Eating disorders, a growing concern in our society, can be tricky to deal with- mostly because they’re purely addiction-based. And like any addiction, eating disorders can prove fatal not only to the body, but also to the spirit. Addictions and disorders, for some reason, seem to be a taboo topic in the church. But the truth is that in a world full of heartbreak and apathy, the worst thing we can do is simply reject those who have long suffered. It’s time we started educating ourselves on one of the realest problems in the world so that we can love all people as Jesus has called us to do.
*Much of the scientific information listed below is based on an investigative review found in this article.
Who suffers from eating disorders?
Somewhere from 5 million to 10 million Americans have anorexia or bulimia, and another 25 million suffer with binge eating disorder. While eating disorders are not nearly as common as other disorders such as depression, their prevalence is nothing to be ignored. Since the 1960s, the number of diagnosed eating disorders has doubled.
Among the list of those most likely to develop an eating disorder are:
-Young athletes (particularly gymnasts)
This relationship between athleticism and eating disorders has been linked to a number of factors, such as the competitive nature of athletes, and the possibility of weight restriction requirements in sports.
Eating disorders seem to be particularly common in women, although the number of diagnosed men is on the rise. Research also suggests that there are more diagnosed men than studies show, because men are statistically less likely to admit they have a disorder and seek treatment.
According to experts, between 6% and 20% of people with an eating disorder will die from it. Adolescence and early adulthood are the stages in which eating disorders are most likely to be developed.
Self-consciousness, puberty, and peer pressure are a few factors that can account for this statistic. Eating disorders seem to affect all races equally and are not triggered by racial identity or socioeconomic status.
What causes eating disorders?
Eating disorders can be caused indirectly by traumatizing life events such as exposure to violence, family conflict, stress, or loss. Personality traits such as emotional instability, obsessiveness, and perfectionism also play a role in the likelihood of developing an eating disorder.
They do not have to be caused by external factors, however. Studies show that a predisposition to having an eating disorder can actually be biologically inherited. About 56% of the risk of having an eating disorder comes from genetics.
Scientifically, the brain structure responsible for regulating eating behaviors- the hypothalamus- has been strongly studied to find a link between abnormalities and eating disorders. Irregularities in neurotransmitters can also trigger them- bulimics, for example, are known to have unusually low levels of serotonin.
How can eating disorders be caused spiritually?
Eating disorders are almost always associated with insecurity. People who don’t feel comfortable in their own skin and people who feel a strong need to be accepted by society are naturally more likely to develop an eating disorder to achieve that level of security.
Spiritually, it all comes down to this: a trust issue with God. People don’t trust that God created them in His own image, and that they are loved no matter what they look like. People don’t trust God to give them confidence, and they don’t trust God to get them wherever they want to be. And so they take matters into their own hands.
Eating disorders, believe it or not, are a byproduct of sin. This is not to shame anyone who has one, and this is not to say that whoever has one deserves as much. But temptation has the potential to create eating disorders and to multiply them. Even if one’s disorder was genetic, temptation still plays a huge role in the survival of the disorder. Insecurity is one of Satan’s greatest lies and weapons.
What are the best methods of treatment?
Fortunately, there are many methods of treatment, which have been shown to help at least to some degree. A good place to start would be to get evaluated by mental health and medical professionals. From there, there are actually multiple ways by which treatment can occur.
Nutritional rehabilitation is a stage of treatment that involves striving for physical healthiness and decreasing medical risks. During this treatment, a dietitian may come in and help train you to start eating healthier, exercising more, recognizing hunger cues, and more. He or she will also help you to recognize and get rid of your distorted thinking about food and weight so that you can develop better eating habits.
Psychotherapy is a time for you to address the issue at hand and what caused it. The therapist may act as an emotional support, and he or she will teach you to think differently and cope with the situation in a healthy manner. In the most common type of eating disorder therapy, CBT, the focus is on identifying faulty thinking that may be an underlying cause, and rectifying it once and for all. The therapeutic process may also involve group or family therapy. Group therapy can be especially helpful to those who would normally feel vulnerable or threatened when surrounded by non-disordered people.
If you’re a Christian seeking to help someone suffering from an eating disorder…
Do all you can to learn more about the disorder to gain a deeper understanding of what that person is going through. You may not be able to ‘fix’ them, but the least you can do is be a pillar of support and a prayer warrior. If they have not considered treatment yet, encourage them to do so. Above all, as 1 John 4:7 says, “…let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
If you’re a Christian suffering from an eating disorder…
Know that you’re not alone. Not only do you have millions of other believers fighting the same fight, but you also have the God of the Universe on your side. The best thing you can do is put your trust in God, and the rest will come. Emotional healing is the first step to physical healing. Know, also, that sometimes it’s up to you to take action.
You can’t expect to be healed if you don’t seek healing. Come to terms with your disorder, try to identify and address the cause, and seek treatment. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to recover.
And finally, pray. Philippians 4:6 says,
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
If you just have faith in Christ, He will be with you and deliver you from all of your struggles.
What are your experiences with eating disorders?