The Hidden Damage of Eating Disorders

11 million Americans battle eating disorders. Here’s what Christians need to know.

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.

19 Comments

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Car09e commented…

Just letting you know much like pornography this issue is nit just an issue for certain sex when we write on topics like this it is important not feel in exclusion because they are of another sex and suffer with this.

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Rachel Saul commented…

I struggled with bulemia for 7 years, mostly before I was saved and then for a year after that. God showed me the sin it was. I humbly and truly repented. I was absolutely broken. God delivered me miraculously where hourly, it would consume me I no longer even had a thought. For 6 years too! Then out of nowhere, after I had my third baby it all came back. The reality where I thought I was totally in the clear, out of nowhere came back and came back hard. The difference at this point was me being aware of the choice I now was making. Either to throw up or not. I have the Holy Spirit and I have the truth of the Word that tells me in 1 Cor 10:13 that no temptation has overtaken me except such as is common to man, but God is faithful, who will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape so that you may be able to bear it. Knowing that I am sinning against my body, I can either chose to disobey God and fulfill the desires of my flesh, or chose to obey God and take the thoughts captive. It's not easy. But it is biblical. And God is fully able to perform mightily in my life if I depend on Him and in Him alone.

The truth is that I am COMPLETE in Christ. Not in anything else. Not in psychology, meetings, not in recovery Complete in Christ. I am a new creation in Christ, the old has passed away behold all has become new. Colossians 2:8-10 - do not be deceived by philosophy and empty deceit, the traditions of man and the way of the world because you are complete in Christ.

We have to take this seriously, and we can only take it seriously if we seriously depend only on God. What did people do 400 years ago when there was no medication, was no recovery groups, or psychology to say because of X,Y and Z I am this way. The reality is that we live in a fallen world. The reality is that we, as believers are constantly being lied to by the enemy who seeks to separate us from God. We are in a spiritual battle, not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers. The reality is that we are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus!

I'm not criticizing any healthcare professional or groups. I know that you all have your place and as believers I am encouraged that you are able to speak the truth, the Word of God when counseling. Continue to lead people to the cross - the only place for restoration and reconciliation. But know this, without God nothing is possible. Seek Him, and who you are as a daughter of God, son of God, adopted into His eternal Kingdom. You are more than worthy. More precious that rubies. This life if just a vapor and one day, we will be in our glorified bodies eternally and all this hurt and sadness and emptiness we feel because we are afflicted by our eating disorders will pass away and we will remember them no more. Praise God :)

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Krazysurfingkat commented…

I feel like you speak truth---society unfortunatly sets an unrealistic standard for women to obtain. My mother, age 46, has been in the ICU 3 times for an eating disorder. I dont think people realize just what having an eating disorder can be like. They think, ok skinny woman who either throws up or doesnt eat. they never realize that it can lead to someone on life support who only weighs 52lbs. I pray that your wife realizes how beautiful she is before its too late.

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Butterfly commented…

I am a Christian who had recovered from
anorexia after many years of battle. I am also an ED & Obesity
Practitioner. When I read Dr. Nagibs article I couldnt help myself feeling
frustrated and upset. To read another article which suggests that ED is about
wanting to look like airbrushed models is very upsetting and disturbing.

There are many people who are interested in
fashion, appearance but do not develop an eating disorder. Nor do all dieters
if any falls into the hand of ED either. And most of all there is a difference
between dieting because you want to look better or thinner and not eating
(torturing yourself with exercise; starving and purging and the list can go on)
because you believe that you dont deserve to eat and as a matter of fact to
live.

More than 50% of eating disorder
sufferers are out there without any help. It is known that those who suffer
from eating disorder especially with anorexia will not ask for help easily as
it is part of the illness. I also believe that articles like this which suggests
that ED is about striving for beauty, holds back many people to ask for help! I
can tell you that it held me back, years ago. I still remember when I was
constantly asked what size I want to be and which model I want to be look like.
And the said reality was that I didnt even know any models nor did I have a
dress size I wanted to reach. Sure I had a goal, size zero but not the size
zero that you can find in the shop, it was the size that meant that I do not exist
anymore as there was no place for me here because I believed that I deserved
not to live. I had been hospitalized for years. I have probably visited all the
available treatment centers that my family could find, but the end everywhere
they gave up on me. Finally I fought against anorexia alone as there was no one
but God who hasnt given up on me. He was my only helper. I have developed my
own strategies which lead me to victory. I am thankful for God to be by my side
and one of the things He showed me during my battle was: if you want to be free
you have to look at the truth always. Because only the truth will set you free!
Therefore I believe that if we want to reach out to as many sufferers as we can
we have to look at the truth and stand up for it and say it. For the sake of
those who suffer, because they are suffering and they are in a lonely place.
Anybody who is having the privilege to help eating disorder sufferers must see
the person as a unique individual! Never put him/her in a box and if we write
an article about these dear people we owe them as much as to represent them in
the light! We need to admit that we live in a selfish; unloving and sadly,
abusive world where peoples needs (emotional and spiritual even physical) arent
met. And whether we like it or not the way we are living affects people! The
true meaning of family, friendships, love is slowly disappearing from the
society. And I strongly believe that it is the lack of love that is the route
of the problem. We need to address these issues because that is the way forward
to teach how to take responsibility for our actions, how to love each other and
ourselves.

I want to thank you all who are next to
someone with an ED, and I want to urge you to look beyond what you can see and
hear about eating disorder. Let yourselves be disciples, who learn from your
patient, loved one or friend (whoever he/she might be to you.). Let them teach
you about their experience of ED, because they are all different. I want to
encourage you to never give up, because complete recovery is possible and available
to them/you. (I am a living example of it!) God bless you.

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Catherine commented…

Thank you for at least trying to address the topic of eating disorders, but I'm afraid I found it hard to keep on reading after this sentence: "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."

Indeed, there's a link between the fashion industry/media and body image issues, but there's a dramatic difference between body image issues and an eating disorder. An eating disorder is not about food and weight, and it's not about trying to look like a model/look good.

I was very unwell with and almost died from anorexia in childhood and have continued to battle my eating disorder in all the years since, yet I can assure you I've never owned a fashion magazine or television, let alone read and watched on a regular basis these things that are supposedly to blame.

An eating disorder is about destroying yourself in a slow, cruel way, because you believe you deserve it. If anything, it's about trying to look ghastly and grim to reflect how you feel.

I urge the writer and readers of this article to reconsider the misconceptions presented in it. It's harmful for sufferers of eating disorders to feel as misunderstood as I did when I read this, as it can prevent us from speaking out about our disorders and getting the help we need.

Thank you. Peace.

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