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Eating Disorders
Posted by Rev. Jeff Dixon, Senior Equipping Minister at Covenant Community Church on Jan 2, 2008, 20:40

Question: Counselor, what is anorexia?
Counselor: Well, dieting is something that just about every person does at some time or another. Anorexia, however, is more than just simply dieting. Anorexia nervosa which is the full medical term is the condition in which the individual, usually a girl, has a compulsive need to lose weight through dieting. She begins to diet just a little at first, but soon moves on to a severe restriction of food intake. She likely begins with a goal of oh, losing just a few pounds, but when she succeeds at this, she continues to have a strong need to lose more weight then more weight. Dieting becomes a fixed way of thinking for her and she finds it almost impossible to stop once she begins. Because of the severity and the length of severity in food intake, many physical changes occur in her body.

Question: Well, what kinds of physical changes?
Counselor: Well the starvation, self-starvation of anorexia will eventually lead to some fairly drastic physical changes, including not only loss of fat, but loss of muscle tissue, giving the person that thin, ghost-like appearance. There is fatigue and there's loss of energy. The heart rate and the body temperature go down. The girl's menstrual period is usually disrupted. There tends to be a growth of fine hair over the body. If this self-starvation continues over a long period of time, serious physical illness can occur.

Question: Well, how does anorexia usually start?
Counselor: Often a casual comment by a parent or a friend or maybe a family member that "You could lose just a little weight" is remembered by the person. It becomes a focus of her thoughts. She begins to think of losing just a few pounds. When this goal is reached, she then resolves to lose another five pounds, just for safe measure. She then sets a new goal to lose just a few pounds more and the cycle goes on and on.

Question: Counselor, we keep talking about a girl having anorexia. But do guys ever get it?
Counselor: That's an interesting question, Medical experts have discussed this a great deal. Boys do become anorectic, but it's pretty uncommon. Only about one in ten of all who develop anorexia are male.

Question: Well, why is it more common in girls?
Counselor: Again, a very interesting question. We wish we really knew more about the answer, but I think I know part of the reason. In our society, there's a great deal of pressure on girls to be thin, trim and perfect looking. In all the media, radio, TV, movies, even the newspaper and magazine advertisements, you see the emphasis on the perfect figure and the perfect look. Well if a girl really doesn't feel really good about herself and she doesn't have a lot of self-confidence or if she's worried about her value as a person, she may consciously or unconsciously start dieting. It's just an attempt to become more perfect and have what she thinks will be a more acceptable figure. Therefore, she becomes a more acceptable person. She thinks more and more about this. She worries about it, dwells on it and unfortunately becomes more and more compulsive about dieting.

Question: That's terrible. Counselor, I've heard a lot about bulimia. Is it something like anorexia?
Counselor: Bulimia is another very interesting eating disorder. It's less well known than anorexia, but it is increasing in frequency among persons and adults. Persons and others with bulimia are not as easily identified as ones with anorexia. Typically they don't have the drastic weight loss or the physical changes seen in the anorectic.

Question: So, what are some of the symptoms of bulimia?
Counselor: Bulimia is characterized by over-eating associated with self-inflicted vomiting and use of laxatives in order to prevent excessive weight gain. A typical bulimia person will eat furiously, then cause themselves to vomit, using various means from gagging with their fingers, to taking certain drugs. Over a long period of time, bulimia can lead to severe physical changes just like anorexia.

Question: Well, what causes a person to develop an eating disorder?
Counselor: Question, many factors contribute to eating disorders. Certain types of personalities are more vulnerable to the pressures that we've been talking about. Individuals who are very compulsive and strong-willed are more likely to have the drive to force themselves to diet. The root of anorexia, however, is believe it or not, a poor self-image. There's a lack of confidence in one's self as a person. There's a feeling that 'I'm not really worth very much as I am, I have to do something to make myself more worthwhile.' The thought of having a more ideal appearance, a more ideal weight, etc., becomes an overwhelming obsession. The anorectic has difficulty accepting herself as she is. She has a lack of confidence in herself and her value as a person.

Question: Well, are there other things that contribute to a person becoming anorectic?
Counselor: There is one other significant ingredient. The person that is likely to become anorectic, is one who feels she doesn't have anyone to turn to for support. She feels there's no one she can trust, not even her family. She has this sense, this feeling that she must solve all of her problems by herself. Her feelings might go something like this - "I've just got to get control of situation. I've got to be strong." She feels like she has to be in control of her life and be in control of all of it on her own.

Question: So, I guess how you think about yourself, this self-image you're talking about is pretty important.
Counselor: It is. How we feel and think about ourselves is really important, Question. It's important because we become what we think. We act out our thoughts about ourselves. This is exactly what is happening in the individual with an eating disorder. For whatever reasons and the reasons are usually many, she feels that she has little value in herself. She feels she must prove her value by what she does. In this case, lose weight.

Question: Here's where I think being a Christian would help. How should a Christian feel about himself or her self? Does the Bible have much to say about self-image?
Counselor: The Bible does have a lot to say about who we are and what our attitudes toward ourselves should be. First of all, the Bible tells us in the very first chapter of Genesis, that we're in the image of God. Every facet of our person is made in the image of God, our minds, our souls, our bodies.

Question: I really like that. Are there other Bible references you could give us?
Counselor: Yes. One beautiful Scripture I like is found in the Psalms, Psalm 139 to be exact. Let me turn to it in my Bible. And I'm going to read to you from the 13th and 14th verses. "For you have created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderful made. Your works are wonderful. I know that full well."

Question: I like that.
Counselor: You may want to read that whole psalm yourself sometime. It has a lot to say about why God made us and how he values us. The Bible does tell us, over and over that we are fearfully and wonderfully made because God loves us. Now, our value as persons comes from God who made us for a purpose and continues to love us. He doesn't just make us and forget about us. He continues to be interested in us, who we are and what we're doing and what's happening to our lives. He loves us as children. Scripture tells us in the 8th chapter of Romans about this. Let me read it for you. This is a very important verse. "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." That's so important. We are God's children. God loves us as His very own children and like any parent, He's interested in us as individuals, as persons. Most of all, we know that God loves us and cares for us because He was willing to send His Son to die for us when we rebelled against Him. When we sinned against Him, we didn't even care what He wanted for our lives. The Bible says in the 5th chapter of Romans "But God demonstrates his love for us in this, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. So you see each individual is important to God, to the God who made the universe and to the God who made us.

Question: Wow, that Scripture really makes you think about how much God must love each one of us.
Counselor: It is exciting isn't it? You see, we don't have to earn God's love. He loves us because of who we are and not for what we do. I wish every person could remember that fact. Our value as a person is derived from the fact that God made us and that God continues to love us. 

Question: So what you're saying is we don't have to be perfect to be loved. 
Counselor: That's right,. Particularly to persons who might be concerned about an eating problem. As we said earlier, one of the problems with persons that face this dilemma is their desire to be better, to be perfect, their inability to accept themselves as who they are. When we come to see that none of us are perfect, God can help us then grow through our imperfections to become more than what we are now and more like what He wants us to be, but we don't have to be perfect and even when we fail, God still loves us.

Question: Oh, I think I see what you mean by the importance of self-image, and I guess I can see how persons who don't feel good about themselves and about their bodies might turn to anorexia or bulimia to try to earn acceptance, but what can a person like that do? How can they help themselves?
Counselor: The one thing the person can do is ask other people for help. But that's the hardest thing in the world for a person with anorexia to do. At the center of the anorectic's being is a need to be in control. A need to solve his or her problems all by himself or herself. Of course, none of us can solve our problems by ourselves, none of us can really solve the problems of life all alone. We do need help. We need the help and care of other people, so it's really very important for persons who feel that they may have some degree of anorexia to talk to other people they can trust.

Question: Well, what's the next step?
Counselor: The next step is for the individual to see a physician. It's important that the individual have a physician she can trust and feel comfortable with. As we discussed earlier, there are many health implications of eating disorder. The physical effects of severe dieting, vomiting, and laxatives are many and they are very significant. So the person's health needs to be considered and evaluated and proper measures taken to encourage good health. Eventually the treatment of anorexia will involve some counseling for the person and her family. The treatment also will involve learning about some of the medical problems of eating disorders. There's a need to correct the diet, to improve the way the person eats so the deficiencies and the nutrition can be corrected. Sometimes it's necessary to treat diseases that develop because of the poor nutrition. This needs to be done along with working with the family and with the person to improve self-image and the attitudes within the family. But treatment must begin with the person being willing to ask for help. The person must be willing to let other people who care get involved in helping. 

Question: Sometimes this means that the person having a problem with an eating disorder might have to go to the hospital, right? 
Counselor: That's right, You've probably heard of persons who had to be in the hospital, sometimes for a long time because of anorexia. Well treatment of anorexia does at times require a hospital stay, but not always. It depends on how long the condition has been going on and how severe the malnutrition has become. Maybe I could give you an example of two or three persons who had anorexia and what's happened to them. One girl I'm thinking about is Joan. She first began to diet seriously when she was about 14. She began for several reasons. One of the main reasons was she had gone to summer camp and it became obvious to her that she was a bit heavier than the other girls. People kidded her about how she looked in her bathing suit. She came back from camp with a resolve to lose a lot of weight. She started on this dieting program with the approval of her parents. The problem was, she didn't stop. She just kept dieting and dieting and she lost a lot of weight. She didn't only become trim, she became like a ghost. Finally her parents were worried and she even got worried. They decided to talk to the family doctor who rather quickly diagnosed her as having anorexia. Fortunately, her problem had only been developing for a few months. She was treated as an out-patient at a medical clinic. She and her family received some counseling and she didn't have to go to the hospital. Her anorexia was controlled and she got back into the youth program, became one of the leaders in the Sunday School department, was able to become a vivacious, pleasant person. Now she continued to be a compulsive kind of person that had to worry a lot about her diet, but she was able to control it. Joan's outcome was positive and hopeful. And I know her now as a college student who is a beautiful, happy, wonderful person. 

Question: Do you have any other stories?
Counselor: Marsha. She first began to develop her anorectic symptoms when she was just about 12. Her family was pretty mixed up. Her parents didn't really catch on either. At first Marsha had been involved in the youth group at the church. She'd been a leader and very compulsive about everything she did at church, and in the school. She began to diet and become truly anorectic. She started acting differently and started having trouble controlling herself and paying attention to her duties. Eventually she sort of withdrew from the youth group. No one really knew what her problem was or paid much attention to it. By the time her anorexia was diagnosed, she was 17. At that time her health was really shattered. She had a lot of emotional problems. She had to be in the hospital for over a year and even now as a young adult, she has a lot of trouble controlling her anorexia. A lot of trouble getting along with people and she isn't doing very well in her college studies. So, you see these are two very different cases, but they point out that anorexia can be treated and essentially it can be cured, if steps are taken early on. However, if ignored, it can become a very serious problem that can be treated only with a great deal of difficulty and may never be cured. 

Question: We've talked about a lot of interesting facts and ideas about anorexia and bulimia, I know a lot of persons are worrying about this. What final comments do you want to leave with our readers?
Counselor: Well, just let me say this. If you are a person who is worried about having an eating disorder, you can overcome your problems with the help of God and other people. A while back a 16-year-old girl who had been anorectic told me "I like the person I'm becoming." There's a wish I have for you. That wish is this. You can like the person you are becoming through the grace of God. Remember, God loves you and so do a lot of people. 

Remember, this is just a starting point, if you feel that this is a condition that you need more information about, then please contact a medical professional, a counselor, and let your pastor know what is going onů.

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