Body image issues and eating disorders have become far too familiar in our culture. Boys and girls of all ages struggle with them, and not too long ago, I also did. But why have body image issues and eating disorders become so prevalent in our society? And what are some ways that a parent can help their child overcome them?
The Smaller Story of Idolatry
Repeatedly in scripture, we see human nature being drawn into the “smaller story” of seeking control, comfort, security to find life. Seeking these things is idolatry. Having a deep relationship with God is the only source of true life.
The Israelites are a good example. Despite God’s provision, protection, and faithfulness to them, they chose immediate gratification over deep intimacy with Him. God did not force Himself on them, but there were natural consequences to their choices. The Israelites paid dearly for their wayward hearts and minds. However, the resulting suffering was still not enough to turn their hearts back to God. We see this scenario played out repeatedly throughout the history of humanity. You can read these accounts in Judges 2:1-3, Judges 2:10-13, 1 Corinthians 6-7, and Psalm 78:4-7.
Like the Israelites, we too seem hard-wired for idolatry and living in the “smaller story” of immediate gratification. And nowhere do we see it more prevalently than in today’s youth culture. The self-centered culture of today — with social media, instant gratification, diminishing of traditional values, and glorification of pleasure over pursuing integrity — has resulted in increased isolation, drawing young people into addiction, depression, anxiety, and despair. This culture creates a lethal distortion of who our kids were created to be, who God is, and the meaning of life. Now, more than ever, we are in a battle for the hearts and minds of our youth.
Body Image Issues and Eating Disorders
Body image issues and eating disorders, while nothing new, are consequences of this cultural decline. These issues impact females more commonly than males, although that is changing.
Types of Eating Disorders
The following body image and eating disorders are the most common and most commonly occur in females:
1. Bulimia (bingeing and purging)
2. Anorexia Nervosa (severe restricting of diet)
3. Binge Eating Disorder
4. Compulsive Overeating Disorder
5. Selective Eating Disorder
While this is not an exhaustive list of all the body image and eating disorders out there, these are the most common. If your child is showing signs of one of these eating disorders, seek help right away.
Getting Sucked Into Destructive Behaviors
I am part of the Boomer generation but experienced the decline that led to bulimia. Childhood wounds, lack of godly parental guidance and a spiritual foundation, and growing up in a superficial culture all contributed to distorted thinking around my body image and identity. We are all subject to the lies of the enemy. Without a solid foundation in the truth of who God is and who He created us to be and a strong support system of accountability and love, we can easily fall prey. Some of the lies I believed were:
- You must be thin at any cost.
- You must please everyone.
- Anger may never be expressed, not even an opposing opinion.
- Be perfect so you can be loved and accepted.
These lies seeped into my heart and brain, and slowly but surely, though I was a Christian, I got sucked into the destructive behaviors of bulimia.
Battling and Overcoming Bulimia
I overcame bulimia with the help of godly, effective counseling, the support of a community that included good, godly friends who were safe to share my brokenness with, and a strong church based on biblical truth and relationship with God. The Holy Spirit helped me embrace my humanity and brokenness and see my need for the cross. I learned to tell myself the truth and began to honor and accept myself — the good, bad, and ugly.
God led me on a journey to find my true self. Slowly He renewed my mind to desire and seek things of eternal value above things that instantly gratify. I soaked in the truth of scripture to internalize my identity in Christ. Spending time reading God’s Word changed my perspective. No longer was I getting my image from culture, media, and the world. Instead, I intentionally chose the correct image from God and His Word. He helped me reject the enemy’s lies and the false ideas that media and culture so seductively presented. I stopped starving myself, stopped dieting, and began to give myself permission to nourish myself, body, mind, soul, and spirit. The need for bulimia slid out the back door.
How To Start on the Road to Recovery
If you or your children are struggling with bulimia or any other eating disorder, here are a few things that you can do to start on the road to recovery:
1. First, be willing to tell yourself the truth. Humble yourself and repent of your idolatry and receive God’s abundant love and forgiveness.
2. Find some accountability. You may choose to join a 12-step program like Celebrate Recovery or get counseling from a godly counselor trained in dealing with eating disorders. Make sure you connect to a good church, safe friends, and mentors.
3. Choose healthy life-giving pursuits, activities, food, and friends. When your life and mind are full of actual life, not the counterfeit life, you will lose your need for it.
4. More severe cases of eating disorders and body image may require medical intervention, hospitalization, and inpatient treatment. Be sure to get help right away if you or your child need it.
What we feed our minds, who we choose to spend time with, and the activities that we pursue all contribute to the images that formulate our thinking. This “false self” comes from soaking in who the world, the flesh, and the enemy tell us we are. It takes intentional effort to tell ourselves the truth and imprint it into our minds and hearts.