Focus on the Family

Eating Disorders

by Marian Eberly , Bonnie Harken

The causes and contributors to eating disorders are many and complex. Although the following influences do not constitute a comprehensive list of contributing factors, they are often present in eating disorders.

Influences

We live in a culture that is driven by the pursuit of perfection. Unrealistic expectations for our physical appearance are common for many. Conversely, satisfaction with one's body seems rare for the vast majority of Americans (witness the growth of the diet and fitness industry in the last 10 years).

Society is obsessed with dieting and places great importance on thinness and physical perfection.

We are bombarded with messages, visual and otherwise, that illustrate beauty in a picture of thinness that few can attain. Airbrushing and computer-enhancement are often used by the media to create this false picture of perfection. Body doubles are used in movies to promote the illusion of physical flawlessness. Many models seen in advertising are 13 to 16 years old, offering a representation of beauty unattainable for most. Sadly, individuals who do not feel affirmed and valued because of impaired identities and deficits in their sense of self may swallow these lies, feeling that the only way to be accepted by others is to be "perfect."

Eating disorders are often the result of entwining of societal pressures and the individual's psychological makeup. Unable to feel valued and wanting to attain acceptance through thinness and perfection, the basic human activity of eating becomes fertile soil for the onset and progression of an eating disorder.

Family Influences

Family relationships are complex and central to the development of a child's sense of self. Often these family relationships are replicated with others. One patient in treatment for her bulimia writes:

My parents were healthcare professionals who gave us a great home, love and many advantages growing up, but there were unspoken high expectations. My brother, sister and I were high achieving, straight-A students. We were the "perfect" family outwardly, but my spirit was wounded when I did not receive the time and attention I needed from my well-intentioned father. Unknowingly, I was developing a strong hunger for male attention that would later cause me grief. In high school I excelled in sports, and that became the key to my individuality and identity, creating a limelight that did not include my siblings.

Writing later of her experiences in treatment, she continues:

I was in treatment long enough to begin to recreate my family dynamics with staff and peers —a very important piece of my treatment experience. As I began to experience events that previously triggered my eating disorder behaviors, I was unable to run to my bulimia or other unhealthy coping mechanisms. Inner growth began as I endured the emotions … hurt ... and began to problem-solve. Success at problem solving led to contentment and victory over the urge to practice my eating disorder behaviors. That feeling of contentment gave me courage to carry out the new coping skills I was learning.

Buck Runyan, MS, CPC, program director at Remuda Programs' Adolescent Facility writes:

There is a common emotional characteristic which girls who develop eating disorders share. They tend to be hypersensitive. They are easily affected by the emotional content in the home. When the home has tension, pain, anger, sorrow, guilt or shame, regardless of their origin, girls with eating disorders tend to personalize them. These feelings are then avoided or denied. Most physically store their feelings in a combination of two places, the stomach and head. They may perceive their stomach to be sensitive, queasy, big or full. She may not have ingested physical nutrients to cause these perceptions; for it may be that she has literally swallowed her emotions. When the stomach is "full" of emotions, it is extremely difficult to add real food to such a small organ. It is not unusual for these girls to be academically talented. They may direct their mental capacities toward controlling the basics of their existence including what goes into their bodies. They may have been called unceasingly stubborn or exceptionally gifted; yet what remains is the fact that this ability for self-discipline can be the steel girder holding the eating disorder in place.

All families have their areas of dysfunction. Some families experience obvious relational problems, while others have what appear to be minimal difficulties. But even in highly dysfunctional families, not all children will develop eating disorders. The question then becomes: What gives one family member the strength to overcome their family's shortcomings while another family member is damaged so severely by the same set of circumstances? The answer may be found in the Bible, which tells us of our God-given uniqueness (e.g., Psalm 139:14).

In the eating disorder recovery process, the family system needs to work together with the individual suffering from the disorder. As each family member takes responsibility for his or her part of the process, healing begins.

Past Events

At the core of an eating disorder is often a specific, traumatic incident, or a set of circumstances or perceptions, that have wounded the person in such a way as to lead to an expression of that pain through the symptoms of an eating disorder. These experiences or perceptions may involve abandonment, rejection or neglect. Additionally, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse often lies at the heart of the shame that traps eating disordered individuals in their pain. The emotional difficulties of eating disordered individuals revolve around control, mistrust, shame, guilt, dysfunctional family and interpersonal relationships, frozen emotions and perfectionism.

From these problems, defense mechanisms and other coping skills develop, allowing the person to survive the painful event. This creates a "scab" over the wound, but does not allow true healing. As the wound festers with the passing of time, the victim's sense of self becomes more and more disrupted.

In many cases, there are links between the family's medical and psychological history and the individual's eating disorder. It is common to discover that the family background contains various psychological illnesses (such as depression, severe anxiety or personality disorders), various addictions (such as alcohol or drugs), relational, sexual and/or eating disorders and various physical ailments. Research has not yet determined whether the causal factors are psychological or biological, yet it appears that these are closely intertwined and must be treated in unison for the best results.

Eating disorders are defense mechanisms that "protect" individuals from the pain and woundedness of their life experiences. Breaking through this cycle of faulty thinking requires the help of a trained mental health professional.


Signs and Symptoms

Some of the warning signs of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.

by David Wall, Ph.D. and Bonnie Harken
Q. Are there signs/symptoms I would notice if my teenager or someone else I know is struggling with an eating disorder?

A. Early detection of an eating disorder may prevent a teenager from years of significant misery and disruption in his or her life. Take a moment and think about your teenager's behavior and the following signs of a possible eating disorder:

These are some of the warning signs of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Severe medical complications may accompany these diseases. Some of the complications are deadly.


The Fight with Food

With the spread of obesity in the U.S., many Americans are taking extreme measures against the battle of the bulge.

by Marty McCormack

In a country sporting all-you-can-eat buffets and fitness centers galore, it's not surprising many Americans are duking it out with food. What is shocking is the tactics that some use — starvation, bingeing and purging — to reach their goals of control and acceptance.

While the number of young women with anorexia and bulimia increased in the past decade, take note: The misuse and abuse of food isn't an issue restricted to teen girls; women, men and teen boys struggle with eating disorders as well. Here, two people share their stories.

A Battle From Within

Sandy Richardson, 42, started the downward spiral of anorexia and bulimia a month and a half after she married at age 24 — about the time she rededicated her life to God. At 5 feet 4 1/2 inches, Sandy went from a healthy weight of 128 pounds to 98 pounds.

"Through treatment, I realized my eating disorder was my way of trying to keep my husband's love," she says. "I thought if I could look good on the outside, he would never look on the inside and see the ugliness there: a past of alcohol abuse and promiscuity."

Once she started losing weight, Sandy received praise from her husband, Scott, and co-workers in the Air Force. Almost everyone she encountered seemed to equate being thin with being healthy.

As a military couple, Sandy and Scott moved frequently. She worked 14- and 15-hour days and didn't always see him at meal times. When they did eat together, Sandy ate a normal meal and forced herself to throw it up soon afterward.

"I had never heard of anorexia or bulimia," she says, "so I didn't know I had a problem. To me, it was dieting — self-control — and that was a good thing. But the vomiting? I thought it was disgusting."

Along with emotional distress, Sandy's limited food intake and purging took a physical toll on her body. She had no energy, a weak immune system and ear and kidney infections. Her menstrual cycle also disappeared. Doctors attributed Sandy's poor health to stress and said they'd treat her as problems appeared.

One day, as Sandy flipped through a Christian magazine, comparing herself to everyone on its pages, she came across an ad for Remuda Ranch, a Christian treatment center for teen and adult women with eating disorders.

After calling Remuda and learning more about the battle she had fought for 13 years, Sandy started treatment and stayed at Remuda for 72 days. "My time at Remuda turned out to be a life-changing event. I felt unconditional love and acceptance for the first time," she says. "I learned who God is and what His nature is really like. It changed me completely."

Sandy's road to recovery wasn't an easy one, but through the course of several years she became well, both emotionally and physically. She and Scott, along with their two teen daughters, live in Wickenburg, Ariz., not far from Remuda Ranch, where Sandy now works as executive director of the Remuda Foundation.

A Battle From Without

Chris Riser, 32, also knows the transformation and healing God can bring to a person with disordered eating. As a 10th-grader, Chris enjoyed playing sports and was well-liked at school and church. He always felt accepted and comfortable with who he was.

But when his parents moved their family from California to Colorado, Chris was devastated and suddenly became very concerned about his weight. He was 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 140 pounds when he started his bout with bulimia.

"My response to the move was, 'I can't control where I'm going to be, but I can control my eating, my food and my weight.' I was trying to make new friends and fit in with a new youth group, and my eating habits became very strange," he says. "I didn't eat breakfast, lunch or dinner, but I'd snack voraciously after school. My parents didn't notice the change because I was at school all day, and I worked four nights a week."

After high school, this self-described perfectionist attended college and participated in an internship as a youth pastor. And all the while, his pattern of skipping meals and bingeing continued. Instead of purging by vomiting, Chris purged with exercise. He dropped to 130 pounds; not a life-threatening weight, but certainly unhealthy.

"When I was working at McDonald's, I'd sometimes eat six or seven cheeseburgers, six or seven boxes of chocolate chip cookies, drink lots of soda and then top it all off with two apple pies," he says. "If I wasn't at work, I'd buy a gallon of ice cream and eat the whole thing. That's a lot of ice cream!

"I tried to throw up, but I could never do it. I'd get frustrated with myself and would exercise even more. We're talking insane amounts of exercise! I'd run five miles down the street, run back, play a couple games of basketball, run another couple miles and then go for a long, hard bike ride."

Chris' mentor confronted him twice about his eating habits, and Chris agreed to see a counselor. But after three visits, he decided to forgo the counseling and allow God to deal with him directly.

"I asked Him to help me stop," Chris says. "I think my walk with the Lord increased at that point because I was trusting Him to help me. I'd try to eat three meals and not eat at other times. I'd do well for a couple of weeks and then totally blow it. But by the time I was 26, my continual struggle to eat properly was over."


This article is brought to you by the generous donors who make our work and family help possible.



Teens and Eating Disorders

Here are some things you can do to help prevent an eating disorder in your child.

from Focus on the Family's Youth Culture department

There are several things you can do, besides talking to your preteen about body changes to expect during puberty, to help prevent an eating disorder in your child:

Examine your own attitudes and behaviors regarding weight and appearance. Talk with your children about genetic differences in body types and the devastating effects of irrational prejudice.

Examine what you are modeling. Do you exhibit acceptance of yourself and take appropriate measures to deal with your body function and size, or do you practice self-condemnation, criticism of your spouse's body, extreme dieting, etc.?

Examine your dreams and goals for your children and other loved ones. Are you overemphasizing physical appearance and body shape, especially for girls?

Don't shame or ridicule your child (verbally or nonverbally). Parents who do can send your child careening toward an eating disorder. Children need to know they are loved unconditionally. And since feeling helpless and out of control is common among eating-disordered individuals, stability and healthy relationships within families are extremely importance.

Be aware of the messages you send about the "chubby child" in your family. Do you communicate, through words and action, positive or negative feelings about his or her value, talents, and lovability?

Don't encourage or force your children to diet. It can actually push your kids toward unhealthy eating patterns that last a lifetime. The best approach is to simply provide balanced, nutritious meals.

Be involved and offer appropriate direction. Abdicating your parental role by offering your children too little direction can also be just as damaging as controlling to tightly. It can leave children feeling left adrift.

Don't say things that make your child feel responsible for your well-being or the well-being of others in the family.

Help to develop your teen's critical thinking skills by talking about celebrities whose lives are dysfunctional and filled with problems in spite of having the "perfect" body. Or do some research on how magazine photos are airbrushed and how movies use "body doubles." Young people who realize that "perfection" is not always what it seems are better able to establish realistic standards for themselves.

Avoid categorizing foods as "good" or "bad."

Be a good role model by eating sensibly, using exercise as a path to good health and enjoyment.

Do not avoid activities (such as swimming, water skiing, etc.) because they call attention to your size and shape.

Do whatever you can to encourage your teenager's self-respect based on intellectual, spiritual, athletic and social endeavors.

Practice complimenting people for what they say, feel and do — not for how thin they are.

Help your family become discerning regarding media messages that imply a slender body means happiness and success.

Look at what's wrong with the message "thin is best" rather than focusing on what's wrong with your body.

Use caution when exposing high-risk teens to anti-eating disorder materials. Books, documentaries and pamphlets warning against disordered eating have often been used by anorexics and bulimics as how-to guides.

If you suspect your teen is already developing an eating disorder, seek help immediately. Early detection and treatment can be very important, so consult with a qualified medical or mental health professional right away.


The Trap of Eating Disorders

Understanding the core problem of bulimia and anorexia, hope can be found.

by Stacey White

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16- 17).

I wish I had thought of this passage as I lay gasping in the dark stairwell, the cold, gray cement wracking my frame with continued shivers. I didn’t, of course. I was much too busy destroying myself to think of Christ’s love letter to me. A moment later I heaved again, throwing up for the 11th time that hour, then sank back against the windowsill, cradling my aching head in my quivering arms.

I’d done it again: My last meal had been exactly 92 hours ago, and I could no longer handle the gnawing hunger. I indulged in a bowl of rice and corn, eating ravenously and jealously, all the while focusing on the half-empty bottle of ipecac tucked safely between two pairs of socks in my top drawer. The moment I finished the bowl, I found the bottle and guzzled the brown syrup. Immediately a fit of goose bumps shivered down my body as I struggled to get down the taste of the liquid and the uneasy fear of what followed.

It never took more than 10 minutes, so after 8 p.m., I headed to the bathroom at the end of the hall, stopping to chat casually for a moment with a friend about our test the next day. By the time I reached the water fountain, I was sick. A moment later I couldn’t stand.

By forcing vomiting, ipecac, meant to remove accidentally swallowed poison, rids the body of everything it touches until it’s neutralized. After an hour in the bathroom, I stumbled back to my dorm room, keeping my hand on the wall for support. I felt terrible and relieved at the same time. I had fixed the problem of my eating. A moment later I knew the ipecac was still working, and I spent the next two hours in the stairwell, throwing up continuously, first all traces of rice and corn, then water, juices and blood.

A True Picture

I was so sick and weak that I seemed almost to see myself from a distance.

For the first time, I saw how truly revolting I was. With hopeless disgust, my mind slipped back into my convulsing body, but was stopped by a deep sense of presence. In fear of being discovered, I grabbed the sides of the trash can and fell back, wasted and wary, suddenly aware that Christ was near me. Then I knew: I was breaking His heart.

Sitting on the steps by the gray trash cans, ashen and lost, I realized how He wept in His amazing love for me.

None of us deserve God’s grace and redemption. I’ll never cease to be amazed at how He has redeemed me! I’m redeemed today, because the only pain I couldn’t bear was the pain I knew stabbed His heart as He watched me hurt my body. I was hurting myself and didn’t care as long as I could be thin. I was revolting because of what I was putting my body through. But God saw past all that, and He has redeemed me!

Labels

“Eating disorders.” I hate the phrase. It’s scientific and functional and broad. The struggle of mind, soul and body that the phrase refers to is none of these things. I think of eating disorders as image disorders, or as heart disorders, because eating disorders are a misorder of values, visions and sufficiency.

As Christians, we can do more than hold each other’s hair back when it comes to anorexia and bulimia. By understanding where the core of the problem lies and checking what the Bible has to say about our bodies, we can grasp a hope and a faith that’s out of this world. When we fall back on these, we can find complete release from the self-esteem trappings of this world.

For the past few months, I have sought to open the box on the many mysteries involved in my food disorders and discovered a multitude of questions. The more I make myself look at my own struggle and its roots, the more I realize how many things have caused my problem: society, friends, peers, family. I note these to be the causes of many eating issues, all the while fully aware that we are society, friends, peers, family. Something’s wrong.

One college male says, “Overweight girls? Naw. I won’t date them. I like them skinny and small. There are guys out there for those girls, but I’m not one of them.”

Another says, “I want a skinny wife, so why would I date a heavy girl?” Several others claim weight doesn’t matter at all, but asked when the last time was they were interested in a girl who was 15 or more pounds overweight, eye contact was averted and silence ended the conversation.

Another said that while he wouldn’t care for his girlfriend any differently if she were to gain 20 pounds in the next month, he’s not sure he would have started dating her if she had gained 20 pounds before they went out. These comments are all from Christian males in their teens and early 20s. Why do they sound so much like the world? Is there something wrong with this?

One friend claimed that we should blame the media instead of the guys. “They show us all these skinny girls,” he says, “and that makes us think, Yeah, I could have that, and so that’s just what we look for.”

Jenny agrees with him. “Everywhere I look, something in the media is telling me what to look like. I don’t look like what magazines and movies tell me I’m supposed to, so I’ll do what it takes to get there.”

What’s Important?

God didn’t need to create you, but He chose to create you for His own enjoyment. When you fully understand how much God loves you and how much He wants to have a relationship with you — His special, unique creation — you will never again have a problem with feeling insignificant.

You can do everything as if you were doing it for Jesus and by carrying on a continual conversation with Him while you do. If this happens, disorders of the image, of the mind and of the heart will eventually fade as our focus is taken off ourselves and placed on His face. Not only will this eliminate our poor self-esteem, but it will also help us remember the Bible’s command to supply a holy place of worship for the Spirit. So let’s peek at the facts.

Fact #1: Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.

“If I treated my body the way God wanted me to treat my body, I know I would feel better about it,” admits Natalie. “God doesn’t care how thin I am. He cares what I idolize and what I put my dependence on.”

“You have to know that you’re royalty, and that royalty deserves to be treated with honor,” recommends Julie, a former model and nutrition expert, in reference to 1 Peter 2:9. “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.”

When we surrender our bodies to Christ, knowing that they are not our own, we can enter into a light of truth in which He has called us and leave the dark and desperate fights for control. In the life of a Christian, control is not even ours to fight for, because we are not our own but belong to our Creator.

Fact #2: He asks that we remember to whom we belong.

All I wanted was to be skinny. I wanted to lose. I had to lose, seemingly for my sanity, my strength, my smile. If we seek sufficiency in anyone but Him, we’ll never be content. The comparison game is one we can’t win. Those who are in Christ have no condemnation or comparison, so to measure our sufficiency in others is to measure in a way He doesn’t. Ladies, let’s seek our beauty, our belonging and our futures in the arms of Christ. He hurts deeply when we settle for less, thinking we’ll find more. He’s more than enough for all of us.

“No man can serve two masters” has a new meaning for those of us who have made control of our bodies a master force in our lives. If your weight controls your thoughts, dictates your habits and consumes your time, then it’s a master. And if food is one’s master, then God is no master at all.

Is your desire or need to lose weight an expression of your living for Him or of your living for yourself? Jeremiah 31:3 reminds us that God has loved us with an everlasting love. That enables us to trust that neither the weight of our bodies nor the weight of our sins is able to keep us from His precious love and acceptance.

We have to know what we’re hungry for before we can “hunger and thirst after righteousness.” We always have the drive and the time for the things in life that are truly important to us. If righteousness is a high priority, then we need to evaluate what must happen in order to seek this. I’d dare to venture that little righteousness or Christseeking can be found in many of our diets.

I was sure that nothing could control my eating and my body, yet Scripture tells us that this is not so. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food,” 1 Corinthians 6:13 says, “but God will destroy them both.”

Wake up! You are not your own! You’ve been bought with a great price; therefore, glorify God with your body. He’s promised that once we let Him lead our hearts in our search for skinniness, we’ll find that He fulfills His promise to always lead us in His triumph.

You may need professional Christian counseling or Christian medical expertise to help you come to terms with seeing yourself through God’s eyes. And don’t expect this to happen overnight. Healing is often a process. And process indicates time.

Fact #3: He seeks that we fight to love what He has loved.

He loves you exactly as you are! And He loves you as though you were the only person on earth. He died with you on His heart. May we live with only Him on ours.

Jenn has come out of a fiveyear battle with bulimia through changes of perspective, “I’ve stopped looking at myself; stopped trying to control everything. I realized that I was hurting every aspect of my life. When I was making myself throw up, I realized that I was saying to God, ‘I know better than You how I should look.’ I can’t say that to Him any more. He’s made me perfect for His call on my life and my ministry. This includes what I look like.”

Write on your mirror “Be thou my vision,” or “Let Christ shine through.” Commit yourself to seeing Christ and His love. Loving ourselves or hating ourselves touches every part of our lives.

Felicity comments: “Sure, my goal is to be healthy. And I’m still about 20 pounds heavier than I should be (according to my doctor) for my height and body structure. But my first goal isn’t to lose those 20 pounds. My first priority is to get right with God. Part of the healing from my eating disorder comes with maintaining weight in a healthy way, but most of it comes from my choice to allow Him to heal my heart.”

My journey of pushing aside lies from Satan and holding on to truths from God will be a lifelong task. Most days I think that eating will always be something I struggle with. I haven’t had meat for years and can’t eat cheese or other greasy foods without being sick. But my heart’s desire is a vibrant and growing walk with the Lord, not a smaller size. My goal is to please Him, not the world. I know that what the world has despised, including my weight and struggles, are the same things He has chosen to use in my life. I choose to take hold of the healthy life He has given me.


Food for Thought

When it comes to food, college campuses are like distorted mirrors of larger American culture.

by Lauren Winner

Between five percent and 20 percent of female college students have eating disorders. Seventy eight percent of college women have binged. About eight percent say they have made themselves throw up in an attempt to control their weight. About one in 100 college women is anorexic. At the same time, the rate of obesity is rising rapidly among college students.

When it comes to food, college campuses are like distorted mirrors of larger American culture.

What's going on? Clearly, our relationship with food is broken.

When it comes to food, college campuses are like distorted mirrors of larger American culture. Unhealthy relationships with food plague Americans of all ages — doctors say that anorexia is increasing rapidly among women in their 30s, and that America's children are experiencing an epidemic of obesity. On college campuses, these problems are even more exaggerated.

Where the Problems Start

Part of the problem resides in the cafeteria. I have just moved to a new university, and I walked into the cafeteria last week and was overwhelmed: there was Chinese food, hamburgers, a sushi bar … a local Indian restaurant had even set up shop in the school cafeteria and was serving up spicy vindaloo. A refrigerated case held soda and bottles of raspberry juice and those scrumptious Starbucks Frappuccinos. There was a salad bar, yes, but it seemed pitiful and lame compared to all the other delights calling to me. And best of all, I didn't have to pay for it — or, at least I felt like I didn't have to pay for it. I'd put a bunch of money in my university account at the start of term, so I could just swipe my ID card, and, poof, the food was mine. I went for the vindaloo.

It won't take too many visits to the cafeteria before I've gained some weight (the Freshman 15 doesn't just apply to freshmen) — which means it also won't take too many visits to the cafeteria for me to feel lousy, or frantic, or determined to try some crazy diet.

"Why do we eat? For nourishment, of course. But also for enjoyment. And sometimes to make ourselves feel better."

Part of the problem lies, then, in the messages I've been absorbing since the moment I popped out of the womb. Will the world come to an end if I gain five pounds? No. But I feel like it will come to an end. I tell myself over and over that the magazine covers and super-skinny super-models are all spouting lies, but even though I can chant the feminist critiques of the beauty industry — in fact, even though I believe those critiques — other messages chant even louder. I'll never get anywhere in the world if I'm not the prettiest girl in the class and I must be a pathetic slob if I can't discipline myself enough to withstand those tasty treats.

Why Dealing with Food is Suddenly Much Harder Now that You're on Your Own

The challenges of eating well at college, then, are legion. For starters, it's suddenly all up to you. No parents purchasing fruit that you might scoop up off the kitchen counter. And definitely no parents sitting down with you at dinner to make sure you eat your veggies. On the other hand, there's no one to check in and see if you're getting enough to eat, period.

A college classmate of mine was hospitalized around Christmas of our freshman year because she'd dropped more than 30 pounds — by slicing her diet down to 400 calories a day (that's three-fourths cup of cheerios, a three-ounce roasted chicken breast, an apple, and about five dates). No one seemed to notice how little Lisa was eating — or, if anyone noticed, they didn't know how to broach the subject with her. One of my hallmates later said she had been worried, but she hadn't wanted to seem nosy.

Also, food is, in psychoanalytic lingo, over determined. That's a fancy way of saying that food is a symbol that is tied up with lots of different layers of reality. Why do we eat? For nourishment, of course. But also for enjoyment. And sometimes to make ourselves feel better. And sometimes to take revenge on parents who withheld love and sustenance from us. And sometimes because, though we're not hungry at all, the folks around us are eating and we want to join in. And on and on … food has lots of meanings in our life. So navigating the cafeteria is complicated because we may have to do some serious talking, thinking, and praying to figure out why we do — or don't — eat.

Not only did God create your body, but He actually took on a human body and became an embodied person. How's that for a radical reminder that bodies are very beloved, and very dear to our God?

Our surrounding culture tells us that our bodies aren't good enough. We need to lose weight, or put on make-up, or lock ourselves in the gym, or buy a push-up bra … and then, then we'll be closer to good enough. Of course, the voices that urge these products and solutions on us are hardly disinterested. Usually they are selling something — mascara, dieting pills, cellulite reduction cream — that they hope we'll buy. But even when we don't buy their products, we all too often buy the lies they're spewing.

For that body that you revile — the one you're trying to diet away, or enhance with a Wonder Bra — was created by God, and God called it good. If you're like me you can glory in God's good creation when you see a sunrise, or a newborn, or a flower — but not when you look in the mirror. And yet: not only did God create your body, but He actually took on a human body and became an embodied person. How's that for a radical reminder that bodies are very beloved, and very dear to our God?

Sometimes, I tally up all the hours I've spent worrying about weight. It's not a fun exercise. It is actually an exercise in repentance because those hours — thousands of hours — spent freaking out about my waste-line could have instead been spent promoting the Kingdom.

So, What Can We Do?

Unless you are super-spiritually-evolved, you will probably be grappling with the hard, knotty issues of body image — the basic question of how to be a body well — for the rest of your life. But you're going to be facing unique challenges having to do with food and bodies now. Here are a few ideas for how you can make the journey just a little bit smoother:


Eating Disorders

A continued list of helpful resources, links and organizations.

Popular questions on this topic: