Eating Disorders: The Roots and a Framework for Healing

I am amazed at the amount of comments and questions I have received regarding Eating Disorders since launching Livinguncovered.com. Questions like, “how do I overcome? How do I connect in marriage and relationships? How do I engage my sexuality in the midst of this battle? How do I keep my eating disorder from affecting my parenting?”

The conversations that have surfaced in the wake of publishing this blog have been intense, and powerfully relevant.

My disclosure: the content I plan to discuss will not be adequately explored in one, or even multiple, blog entries. I pray the limited information I share based on my experience and studies will be practical and helpful to those who are struggling with Eating Disorders, as well as their support system. If you find yourself experiencing thought patterns relevant to Eating Disorders or are engaging in obsessive-compulsive feelings/behaviors around body image, please seek professional help. You can search https://therapists.psychologytoday.com/ to find a therapist to suit your needs, or you can consider online counseling through a forum like www.betterhelp.com.

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My Eating Disorder Update:

I never thought I would see the day when I could honestly say I have not counted a calorie. The idea of purging did not even cross my mind. I did not cringe when someone hugged me today. I did not count the rolls on my stomach when getting dressed this morning. I did not wish for a different face. I did not dry heave when my thighs swished together. I have not intentionally withheld pleasure from myself due to feeling inadequate. I only exercised for one hour instead of three.

And I consider this a victory.

For the first time in 18 years, I feel anchored and settled in my body. I did not land in this place overnight. God has had a very sweet journey for me, some of which I shared in my entry Deeper Freedom, Still.

I am still in process and I continue to have days of hardship. Just the other week Ryan walked in from work to find me weeping on the couch lamenting the shape of my body and mourning the fact that more of that day’s energy had been devoted to self-evaluation than loving others.

I still have days when I look at my husband and have to say out loud the thoughts that wander in my mind – thoughts that seem so logical in the moment, but in hindsight are ludicrous. It’s an uphill battle, but one I have committed to. And one that has become easier with time.

The Root of the Disease:

If you are unfamiliar with Eating Disorders, I encourage you to read Diagnosing a Nation where I explain my interpretation of the disease and also provide DSM criteria for a formal diagnosis.

Eating Disorders begin subtly. They begin, like any addiction, with a seed or a thought. Sometimes that seed is cast through a traumatic event such as sexual trauma or abuse, emotional abuse, or a physical illness during which an individual feels their body failed them. When the thoughts originate from such events, it’s often because the person felt powerless. Eating Disorders are often a method of exhibiting control when one feels helpless.

Eating Disorders can also originate from fear – typically, an intense fear of isolation or rejection. If the most powerful people in one’s life (those who provide the individual with core security and acceptance – Ex: family of origin or childhood caretakers) identify appearance or weight as a means of acceptance and connection, one will associate safety and security with appearance and weight.

Of course there are other probable sources of Eating Disorders, but powerlessness and a fear of isolation are the two more common origins.

How to Overcome:

If only the process for overcoming an Eating Disorder were formulaic. But, everyone’s journey is different. Despite the different paths we take, the destination is freedom.

While there is no formula, there is equal hope for everyone to overcome. Jesus offers us hope. Full and lasting healing is not possible apart from Jesus. As you walk in friendship with Him and meditate on His word and ways of living, healing will come.

An infuriating perception among people (some Christians, particularly) is that all healing is instantaneous. We are taught to believe that healing should always happen quickly and completely.

Sometimes healing does happen quickly. Our God is amazing and abundantly kind and powerful. He does miraculously and instantaneously heal people.

God also offers healing to people through processes that last weeks, months, and even years. Through these processes, He gifts us with treasures and blessings that only those who have endured such journeys could appreciate.

Healing from Eating Disorders and other Mental Illnesses can absolutely be instantaneous.

Such healing may also require a process – a process of working through our history, admitting to unhealthy patterns, learning humility, and absorbing the sanctity of powerlessness.

A Framework to the Process:

Everyone’s process will look different. God has different terrain and paths for us to walk because He desires intimacy with us and we are all designed differently. He wants us to draw near to Him in this process and walk our own path, not a path outlined for us by a friend, therapist, pastor, spouse, relative, or stranger on wordpress.com. He wants us to walk the path uniquely chosen and created by Him.

Nonetheless, I can speak to 5 components that seem to be common steps in the journey toward healing for everyone suffering with an Eating Disorder:

1. Admit to the presence of a problem

The first step to overcoming an Eating Disorder is to admit to the presence of a problem.

For me, this occurred when I began to see the carnage within my marriage as a direct result of my body-image issues. It was then that I decided this was a problem that deserved intervention and attention.

If obsessive thought patterns are impacting a marriage or relationships, it is time to engage the healing process.

2. Invite someone into your process.

Nobody will know the intricacies of this path’s terrain the way the individual with an Eating Disorder and God will. This is not a trail anyone else can walk for him or her. This is a journey the individual will be required to make alone with God.

There will be moments when the journey becomes exceedingly difficult. God will provide people who can meet with the person in the rocky moments and offer encouragement.

As contradictory as it seems, the cornerstone to any Eating Disorder is pride – an inability to admit to and feel comfortable with powerlessness and vulnerability.

Inviting someone into this process will force one to admit that he or she has a problem and require him or her to engage humility – a foundational component in the process.

3. Surround oneself with people who love and honor their bodies.

A motivator for healing is seeing the depth of happiness among those who have positive body images.

Those who have a deep, biblical love and honor for their bodies walk in a peace that is mysterious to people who have eating disorders.

As people recovering from eating disorders walk in relationship with individuals who love and honor their bodies, the hope to know such peace will continually be before them.

 4. Bless your body.

This will be the opposite of what one feels or desires. It will be a discipline.

As they feel their rolls and judge their thighs and consider their faces and the circumference of their fingers – they need to verbally bless their body.

He or she will need to say, “My body can do ___” and that is incredible.

For example: One gets sick because he or she ate food that has spoiled – He or She gets to say, “my body is ridding itself of poison – and the fact that it knows to do that is amazing.” Or, when he or she gets a muscle cramp while exercising, the individual gets to say, “my muscle is cramping because it knows my body is tired and I need to rest. The fact that my body requires me to rest is amazing.” Or – a woman may begin to feel menstrual cramps and feel bloated and she gets to say, “my body can cultivate and grow a human being – and that is awesome.”

The purpose is to fix one’s gaze on the amazing capabilities of the human body without any attachments to performance, achievement or appearance.

5. Fix your gaze on fullness of life.

In the trenches of an Eating Disorder battle, there are few things that cross the mind outside of food and body shape. In reality, there is a great deal more to life. Those who battle Eating Disorders have incredible tunnel vision and are sometimes out of touch with this reality.

It can be helpful and healing to purposefully explore pleasures outside of food, and beauty outside of the human body each day. Keeping a journal of these observations can be key in renewing and healing one’s mind.

One of the more helpful activities can be serving other people in need. Serving helps reorient a meaning to life and refocuses one’s attention. One must be careful to not jump past inner-healing and fill a void with servitude, though. That is a dangerous practice where many people have found themselves broken in a cycle of depression and anger.

Examples of “Fullness of Life” Activities:

Pick one or two and journal each day about the experience…

  • Nature exploration
  • Photography of nature
  • Music
  • Painting
  • Serving at a shelter, food bank, or other charity
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Joining a book club, Bible study, craft club, or other community with common interest (meetup.com)
  • Auditing a biology course
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