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Healing and Recovery from Eating Disorders

This is an excerpt from Christian Paths to Health and Wellness 3rd Edition With Web Study Guide-Loose-Leaf Edition by .

Genesis 1:26 confirms that God created each person in his image, with an identity that is both physical and spiritual. Ephesians 1:5 says that Christians have the special privilege of being adopted into God's family. God wants people to know the truth—him. John 8:32 states, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” God's truth is that he loves all people unconditionally. He wants people to know that, even when they feel unlovable and worthless, they are worth so much in his eyes. This unconditional love, above everything, builds the foundation for the Christian's life. People who can't accept this love can't accept Christ, others, or themselves, because God is love (1 John 3:16).

Christ wants people to focus on him and to keep their eyes fixed on him. It's hard to live outside of society's standards! Christ never gave in to that pressure, though. He lived in the world, but he was not of the world. My aim is to live like Christ. The ultimate message he sends is that he loves us unconditionally, and he wants us to love ourselves that way, too. I allow my heart and mind to be stilled and filled by his deep love for who I am.

First Corinthians 3:16 states, “Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst?” We are, in fact, “created in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27). Wow, that thought can be freeing from what media often tells us. This doesn't mean that we should make our bodies an idol. Rather, with the attitude of Christ, replace the lies that the world tells, and love what God loves (see Philippians 2:5-11).

The opening chapter of this book and of the Bible establish that God's physical creation was very good. People get deceived, though, into thinking they are weak and ugly—not good. The Bible talks about Eve being deceived. She said to God after she took the forbidden fruit, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13). Paul warned people against thinking they're stronger or less gullible than Eve was: “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). Maybe we put up too easily with media's unrealistic and distorted views of what women and men should look like and become deceived, lose self-esteem, and try to be someone we are not.

Heed Paul's warning, then, in Romans 16:17-19: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery, they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” Paul encourages, in his letter to Titus, to live with freedom and wellness, not enslaved and deceived. He writes: “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. . . . And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone” (Titus 3:3, 8). Take a hard look at how we allow media to shape and imprison our thoughts, emotions, actions, and lifestyle. Pray about how we can glorify God through our bodies and take pleasure in his good gifts to us.

Recovery from an Eating Disorder

Because many factors contribute to the development of an eating disorder, and because every person's situation is different, the “best” treatment must be tailored to each individual. The process begins with evaluation by a physician or trained counselor, as eating disorders often coexist with other disorders (Hudson et al., 2007) and require comprehensive interventions targeting “sociocultural cognitions and behaviours, combined with healthy living education” (Urquhart & Mihalynuk, 2011).

Recovery is a difficult process that can take several months—even years. It takes more than abandoning starving. At minimum it involves

  • maintaining a normal or near normal weight;
  • in women, resuming normal menstrual periods (not triggered by medication);
  • eating a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of foods; and
  • reducing irrational fears about different types of food.

Recovering individuals need to work on relationships, too. They need to seek out age-appropriate relationships with family members and others. During recovery, they will begin to realize and become aware of unreasonable cultural demands for thinness; engage in fun activities that have nothing to do with food, weight, or appearance; gain a sense of self; and set realistic goals and plans for achieving them.

Adapted from ANRED, Treatment and Recovery. https://www.anred.com/tx.html.

Men struggling with body image concerns or eating disorders need to put in place a multi-disciplined assessment and treatment plan like females do. Getting weight back to normal is a priority. Furthermore, destructive behaviors, such as bingeing, purging, using steroids, and being preoccupied with supplements, need to be reduced. Developing muscle through a balanced weight-training program is also important. Emotionally, these men may be dealing with substance abuse, alcoholism, or shoplifting, which are some means of feeling good when physical needs are not being met. These men may also need help expressing emotions and exploring their relationships with their fathers (Cumella, 2003; Stein, 2005).

Recovery is a long, hard process. In the book Eating Disorders in Women and Children, Lewis (2001, p. 318) refers to the recovery process as a spiritual quest: “It involves a rediscovery of one's connection with their inner-self, others, and nature. . . . Healthy spirituality is the process of learning how to live daily with the tension between our desire for perfection and the reality of our imperfection.”

These are some options for treating eating disorders (please refer to table 2.2 for specific treatment goals for the different eating disorders):

  • Hospitalization to prevent death, suicide, and medical crisis
  • Weight restoration to improve health, mood, and cognitive functioning
  • Medication to relieve depression and anxiety
  • Dental work to repair damage and to minimize future problems
  • Individual counseling to develop healthy ways of taking control
  • Family counseling to change old patterns and create healthier new ones
  • Group counseling to learn how to manage relationships effectively
  • Nutrition counseling to expose food myths and design healthy meals
  • Participation in support groups to break down isolation and alienation

Adapted from ANRED, Treatment and Recovery. https://www.anred.com/tx.html.

Table 2.2 Specific Treatment Goals for Different Eating Disorders

If you think you may have a problem with an eating disorder, Merryl Bear of NEDIC recommends asking yourself these questions:

  • How do these behaviors impact my life?
  • How do they help me?
  • How do they hurt me?
  • In looking at how they help me, is that true help?
  • Is there something more productive I can do in helping me achieve what I want to achieve?
  • Are these behaviors genuinely not interfering with my ability to live a full and engaged life?
  • If you need help, or know someone who may, please contact the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC, n.d.-a).