The Hidden Damage of Eating Disorders
By Dr. Margaret Nagib
February 28, 2012
Millions of women look into their mirrors every day and hate what they see. They are profoundly dissatisfied with their appearance—the lips aren’t full enough, the cheekbones aren’t dramatic enough and, of course, they are certainly not thin enough. These women and girls want so desperately to look like the air-brushed models in the magazines or the painstakingly thin celebrities on the awards shows. Although they can do little about their lips and cheekbones without surgery or medical intervention, they can lose weight. So, they start dieting.
This is often the first step to an eating disorder, which today afflict roughly 10 million females and 1 million males in our country. Anorexia and bulimia are serious psychiatric disorders that devastate lives and can result in death. More people die from anorexia each year than any other mental illness, including depression. These are equal opportunity disorders, meaning they affect people of every age, culture, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and religion.
No one is immune—and in every case, eating disorders rob the individual of their divine identity and purpose in life.
Identity Theft and the Impostor
Identity theft is a crime in which an impostor obtains key pieces of personal identifying information, then uses that information for their own personal gain. This crime is rampant in the world today, usually through computer hacking or credit card theft.
In my work as a clinical psychologist at a residential treatment facility for women, I see an even more insidious type of identity theft. I see women who have, in essence, had their divine identities stolen by eating disorders. The irony is that many of these women are incredibly physically beautiful, according to current societal standards; and yet they feel deficient, grossly inadequate on many levels. This inadequacy is due to the lie that resides beneath our cultural over-emphasis on physical beauty: "The only thing that is truly important or valuable about your identity is your appearance." This is why women spend billions of dollars a year on beauty treatments, fad diets and plastic surgery, striving to be young, thin and beautiful. By doing so, they have lost a sense of their true self. They have forfeited key pieces of their "identifying information" to "an impostor." They forfeit the truth about their bodies, identity and role in the world—the truth that “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms139:14); “I am special, holy, and chosen; I am royalty with a divine calling of which I am worthy” (1 Peter 2:9; Ephesians 4:1); “I am a child of the most high God” (Psalms 82:6).
In my work with Christian women and adolescent girls who are fighting to get their stolen identities back, I often share with them the story of a woman who spent 18 years of her life bent over, unable to straighten up. This woman is not known for her amazing appearance or incredible talent; no, the story of this woman lives on due to her brush with greatness and instantaneous healing from a horrible infirmity.What is interesting about this story from Luke 13 of the woman crippled by a spirit for 18 years is that the Pharisees criticized Jesus for wanting to heal a woman who they saw as very lowly on the Sabbath. My guess is she surely did not fit whatever the cultural ideal for a woman was in her day. Jesus very quickly corrected them and spoke to her true identity when He said, “Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, who Satan kept bound for 18 long years be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” (vs. 17)
While the cultural ideals may have been different, the characters are the same. Jesus reminds us of who our Father is, and that makes all the difference. The “impostor” who tried to steal this woman's identity 2,000 years ago is the same one who deceives men and women today. Similarly, the Father who instills self-worth and restores her to an upright position is also the same.
Role of the Christian Community
We see the dichotomy; we live in a world focused on perfection, where millions struggle with body image issues, low self-esteem and eating disorders. Yet, we serve a God who created all of His children in His extraordinary image.
Because we exist in this world of messages that seek to distort and confuse the minds of people, it is imperative that Christians, as friends and family, champion those in our lives just as Jesus championed the woman in Luke 13. All of us must stand against the goal of perfectionism, knowing that only God is perfect.
We must always remember who we are, who our father is and what He has said about our divine identity and destinies.
If you, or someone you know and love, has an eating disorder, please get help. Please take whatever steps are required to reclaim the holy identity Satan has stolen from you. Recovery is possible. Once set free from the bondage of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating, you can return to the life God had always intended for you.
If you are in recovery from an eating disorder, stay strong, knowing that the God of the entire universe is standing alongside you in your progress forward. Every time you say “no” to the lure of your former eating disorder, and “yes” to your new life walking in the light of truth, God smiles.