Every culture in the world expresses important aspects of itself through its food – how we gather or obtain it, how we prepare it, how we consume, and dispose of it. Food is one of God’s good gifts to us and something that our bodies need for them to continue to function properly and maximize our quality of life.Our relationship with food and our bodies can be complex though. Without food and the nutrients it provides, we cannot survive or thrive. With too much of it, our bodies get more than they need and that can put our health at risk.
We are precious beings made in God’s image. Psalms 139:13-14 says, “For you created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well”. Sometimes God’s voice is drowned out by lying whispers that distort reality.
Eating disorders can distort our relationship with food through faulty perceptions of ourselves and our bodies. Some of these disorders are less about the food and more about a false belief that your happiness, confidence, and success are tied to your weight or body shape.
What is an Eating Disorder?
An eating disorder is a serious medical illness that distorts a person’s eating behavior, making them obsess about food, body weight, and shape.
Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice. Compulsive and addictive behaviors surrounding food affect men and women alike. Up to 30 million people of all genders, ethnicity, and ages in the US will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives. These disorders can severely impact a person’s mental and physical health, and they can even be life-threatening.
If you feel like your life is controlled by food, whether you use food to feel comforted or you have strong fears and negative thoughts about food because of weight gain, you might be struggling with an eating disorder.
Different Types of Eating Disorders
The common types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
Anorexia can be fatal. This is because this eating disorder leads to the individual developing medical conditions and complications associated with starvation as the body does not get what it needs to function properly.
People with anorexia nervosa fall into two broad subcategories: restrictive and binge-purge. Those with the restrictive subtype of anorexia place severe restrictions on the amount and type of food that they consume.
Those with the binge-purge type of anorexia also place severe restrictions on the type and amount of food they eat, and additionally, they may have binge-eating and purging behaviors such as using diuretics, laxatives, and vomiting.
The result of this behavior is that the person becomes dangerously underweight, even while they think themselves overweight and weigh themselves repeatedly.
Symptoms of anorexia nervosa include an intense fear of gaining weight, distorted body image, and over time other symptoms develop such as the thinning of bones, muscle wasting and weakness, dry and yellowish skin, damage to heart function and structure, brain damage, infertility, and multiorgan failure.
People with bulimia nervosa may maintain a normal weight or be overweight. Those with this disorder find themselves caught in a cycle of overeating and feeling out of control when they do so. These episodes of binge-eating are followed by compensatory behavior such as excessive exercise and use of laxatives and diuretics, forced vomiting, fasting, or a combination of these.
Binge-eating disorderPeople with binge-eating disorder find themselves frequently eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific period (over an hour or two, for example), eating secretly, even when full or not even hungry. As a result, they often struggle with being overweight or obese.
This is because unlike bulimia nervosa, those with binge-eating disorder lose control over their eating and binge-eat, but do not follow the binge-eating episodes with compensatory purging behaviors such as vomiting, fasting, or exercise. Binge-eating disorder often brings about shame, distress, and guilt about eating.
What Causes Eating Disorders?
The exact causes of eating disorders are not fully known or understood, but research does suggest a combination of biological, genetic, social, psychological, and behavioral factors can increase the risk of developing an eating disorder. So, different eating disorders are triggered by a variety of environmental, social, mental, and emotional factors.
People may develop unhealthy eating habits leading to eating disorders due to strong social pressure, as a way of masking pain, having their appearance made fun of, or wanting a sense of control.
Treatment for Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are treatable! There is hope for recovery and getting healthy. Whatever your situation, Christian counseling offers you a safe space to find rest in the Lord and for healing, using both spiritual resources such as Scripture and prayer, as well as well-attested therapeutic techniques to address the whole person – body, mind, and spirit.
The treatment for eating disorders will depend on the disorder you struggle with and its symptoms. Treatment options for eating disorders include nutrition education, medication, and therapy, or a combination of these approaches.
Your treatment team, which can comprise of a dietician, a psychotherapist, your family members, and friends will be your support and help you with accountability. The professionals on your team will help develop a treatment plan to help you set attainable goals and get healthy.
Your dietician can help you develop a plan to achieve and maintain healthy eating habits. this may include practicing meal-planning, establishing regular eating patterns, taking steps to avoid bingeing or dieting and correcting any health problems that may have resulted from either obesity or malnourishment.
While medications cannot cure eating disorders, they can help in treating co-occurring conditions such as anxiety and depression. You may also need to take medication to treat any physical health problems caused by the eating disorder.
Therapy may last from a few months to a few years. Various therapies have a proven track record of being effective in addressing both the surface and root issues underlying eating disorders. These include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which helps people manage harmful thoughts and behaviors by becoming more aware of how thoughts, feelings, and actions may contribute to their eating disorder, and replacing negative perceptions with healthy ones. After helping you regain healthy eating habits, it helps you learn to recognize and address the distorted thoughts that lead to eating disorders.
- Group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in which you along with others that have an eating disorder are led by a trained professional in group sessions where you learn skills to manage the symptoms of the eating disorder, and you gain tools to address negative thoughts, feeling, and behaviors.
- Family-based Therapy, where family members learn to help you restore healthy eating habits. This form of therapy is especially useful for those in close-knit family units or for parents learning to help their child with an eating disorder.
Christian counseling for eating disorders, which combines these evidence-based techniques with spiritual resources such as prayer and Scripture, can help you establish a healthy relationship with food, reclaiming your health, your life, and your sense of self-worth as someone who bears God’s image.
Your counselor will work with you to set goals for your therapy such as:
- Discovering and addressing the root cause(s) of your eating disorder
- Setting goals such as a healthy body weight
- Restoring a healthy body image
- Building self-esteem
If you are ready to begin your journey toward healing, peace, and a healthier lifestyle, don’t hesitate to find out about counseling and treatment for eating disorders.
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