I remember it well. I sat across from her in a café in New Orleans. We had been shopping all day and had stopped for a late snack. I had already spoken to her mother about my concern. I took a deep breath and plowed ahead.
Background: We were college roommates finishing up a summer school class, almost done for the summer. We had been laughing and having a great time. Walking around the French Quarter, we took in the flavors, the freaks, the fun. We knew each other well, finished each other’s sentences, noticed the same things on the street and burst into giggles without needing to explain why we were laughing. She was that friend.
She had just returned to the table from the restroom…a place she visited often when food was involved. I had actually arranged this afternoon to create an opportunity for a serious conversation with her.
She sat across from me with red eyes, and the tell-tale puffy cheeks of someone who threw up every morsel of food she swallowed.
I won’t recount the details of the dialogue. But suffice it to say, as gently and as lovingly as I could, I told her I was worried about her. I knew that she was purging.
She flat out denied it.
She told me she had incredible metabolism. She ate because she could. Sure, she was thin, but she always had been.
And then, the ultimate betrayal…I confessed to her that I had called her mom.
She looked stricken. Then furious. She ended our meal, our conversation, our trip.
We drove back in a cold and bitter silence. I tried to make small talk.
She was flippant and terse.
As it turned out, she was able to convince her mother that she was fine. She told her I was jealous of her ability to consume large amounts of food without so much as a pound gain.
Her mother bought it: denial is such sweet relief.
But here’s the thing. She quit purging!
No more bits of lettuce floating in our toilet. No more backsplash of vomit in places on the toilet where she forgot to look. No more hurried departures from restaurant tables, and red-eyed returns.
Unfortunately, the story does not end here.
You see, she was busted, not healed. The same need to control, the same self-hatred and the same distorted image lurked in her body and in her mind.
And so…she stopped purging. And stopped eating.
I left for the rest of the summer. When I saw her again in the fall, I gasped…audibly.
Her head looked huge perched atop her rail-thin body. Her collar-bones jutted out from her clothes in dangerous-looking angles.
Her hair was thin. Her body was thinner.
Concentration camp photos came to mind. Or chemo patients.
Food had a death grip on her like a labor camp worker or a dreaded disease.
She was starving herself to death in the middle of great abundance.
…And she literally thought she had outsmarted everyone.
She was winning!
Ladies, there is a stronghold of deception that accompanies eating disorders.
Even the name is deceptive…eating disorder.
There is absolutely nothing disordered about it. It is precise. It is controlled. It is managed. And it is obsessed over.
Perhaps the only thing in the life of a woman with an eating disorder that is orderly is their eating.
Their relationship with food is calculated, not disorderly. It is doted upon, not neglected.
It is, after all, all-consuming.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Do you know anyone struggling with bulimia – eating food, but forcing it back out through throwing up or laxatives?
What about exercise-addiction? This is the girl who exercises relentlessly to eradicate the calories she has taken in.
And finally, what about anorexia? Anorexia is more easily spotted, and more easily diagnosed. Heart rates can drop dangerously low. Hair falls out, and skin scales off in flakes. The lack of calories and nutrients betray the disorder more obviously than bulimia or exercise addiction.
Here is the question I want to ask: are you or someone you know consumed with what you consume?
The answer is important because eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.
Did you get that? That’s the highest death rate.
This is serious business.
I believe that many people with eating disorders are unfairly judged.
It seems vain, egocentric, and preventable.
Many of us would say, “Just eat, already!”
But the women I have known with eating disorders, both in my personal life and in my professional life, are deeply disturbed, deeply feeling, and in tremendous pain.
The pain is emotional, physical, and spiritual.
There is a craving that cannot be satisfied.
A craving for acceptance. A craving for perfection. A craving for love. A craving for beauty. A craving for release. The crave to control.
…And a craving for food.
She is ravaged by unfulfilled cravings.
The bingers are hungry all of the time. There is an obsession with food. They think about it from their first waking moment until they fall asleep at night. Day in day out.
All words and all signs lead to food thoughts.
The anorexic is similar, though she often reaches a point where food intake is intolerable.
And yet she thinks about food. Hates it. Fears it. Dreads it. Wants it. Orders it. Plays with it. Buys it. Cooks it. Gives it away.
There is a famine in her very soul.
Is there a solution?
Biblically, we are reminded that Jesus is the bread of life.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. John 6:35
He is the One who can satisfy our cravings.
Allowing Him to meet our deepest hunger for acceptance, for love, for beauty, and for freedom is the ultimate solution.
But for the woman who is in the middle of the cycle of an eating disorder, what is the first step to healing?
Step 1. Admit it. Yes, you. The one who is thinking no one knows. The one who thinks she is just being careful with food. The one who is thinking about food and its effects constantly. YOU.
Step 2: Confess it. This means verbalizing to someone else. I believe the best idea is to talk to a school counselor, doctor, or therapist. The mandatory confidentiality may help you feel more safe. Also, professionals are the ones who are actually equipped to help you on your journey to freedom.
Step 3: Go see a medical doctor. If you used a doctor for Step 2, then you’ve got this. If not, you need to have a physical. Remember that eating disorders have a high mortality rate. You may not know the danger your physical body is in until this step.
Step 4: Begin treatment. There are different types of treatments available:
- Nutritional counseling
- Support groups
- Residential treatment
Each person is unique. Therefore, your treatment needs to be individualized to target your struggles. Many people suffer from more than one kind of eating disorder. On the other hand, there is a category of “sub disorder.” This person is beginning to have some of the symptoms, but is not in bondage to a full-blown disorder. Select the treatment option that is right for you.
Sep 4: Freedom. What does freedom look like?
Eat. Pray. Love.
No, not that New-Agey Julia Roberts movie that encourages leaving all responsibility behind to travel the world and ‘find yourself.’
But instead use each action word as positive behavior replacement:
Eat. Without shame, guilt, or fear. Eat for nourishment. Eat without obsession.
Pray. Continually about your fears, your struggles, your victories!
Love. Jesus, the One who came to set you free. (John 8:36) The One Who is the Bread that satisfies your inner cravings. (John 6:35)
…And love the one He made in His image…the loveable, estimable, redeemed YOU! (Genesis 1:27)
Christian Counselor + Friend of Redeemed Girl
Check out this week’s podcast “The Idolatry of Our Appetites”