Eating Disorders: A Slow Suicide
You joined the gym and started that diet, but you and your body aren’t good friends. Your scale hates you because the numbers aren’t going your way. So how do you get the muffin top and saddlebags to disappear? People try desperately to get the extra weight off—crazy fad diets, tons of exercise, weight loss shakes, fasting. Whoa! That last one is scary. Fasting. I’m not referring to the spiritual discipline of fasting, either. I’m reminded of this particular “weight loss” method when rummaged through our storage space when putting away Christmas decorations. I found a black portfolio from 1982. Inside were black and white photos of me when I went to modeling school. As I looked at them, they reminded me of two things: anorexia and God’s miraculous healing from that eating disorder. What starts as an innocent quick weight loss effort-fasting can go seriously wrong.
When I was a teen, I became fed up with derogatory remarks about my weight or being called “ugly.” I was a little chunky at 125 pounds, 5’1″ and 16 years old, but I wasn’t fat. When in fact, I had a fair amount of muscle from running track, playing basketball, and twirling baton in marching band. Negative messages came from different people at home and school. It also wasn’t helpful that my family life was dysfunctional. I won’t share details because I love and respect my family. However, I decided to skip meals and cut my calorie intake to dangerous levels. By the time I had entered college, I was only consuming around 500 calories on most days. Sometimes I only took in 300 calories. When I felt the effects of starvation, I binged. Sometimes I used laxatives when I “overate.” My weight plummeted to 86 pounds. To keep my story to blog length, my fiance’ convinced me I was slowly killing myself.
I did some research on anorexia and discovered the foundations of his concerns. My Psych 101 professor gave our class the assignment to find whatever mental health issue we wished to learn more about and write a term paper about it. Since I had read about campus research groups for anorexia, I decided to write about this subject. This project really opened my eyes to reality. I was anorexic. I exhibited all the classic signs. If I continued, I could die of cardiac arrest.
We were involved in a traveling orchestra with our campus church at that time. On each road trip, someone from our group would give a devotional message. My turn came up. Although I didn’t know Christ at the time but believed I was a Christian, there was a serious conviction of my own sin issue. I saw a Bible passage doing the “Bible Roulette” method of Scripture reading and found this passage: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV. I was stunned when I read it.
I shared this passage with a tiny group of congregation members at the church, who hosted our concert. I confessed to everyone there that I was anorexic and asked them to pray for me. They circled me and prayed for my healing. Since then, my weight has never gone below 100 pounds, no matter how I ate. Over several months, my calorie intake improved to normal levels, and my mindset about my body changed slowly. There were times I reverted to starving myself, but it was short-lived. God had healed me. What started as an innocent weight loss effort could have taken my life. In the model photos, I weighed 100 pounds. These were taken shortly after God healed me. In other pictures of me during anorexia, it’s hard to see the bones sticking out through the baggy clothing.
Anorexia and bulimia are deadly eating disorders. They begin with a “harmless” weight loss effort. The calorie numbers and the scale numbers become an obsession over time. As the fat melts away, essential nutrients are also deleted from the diet. Exercise amounts increase to ridiculous levels. Finally, the misguided individual begins to feel good about the weight loss. But for someone prone to these disorders, that is not enough. At this point, when most people would stop, anorexia begins to distort the mental image of one’s body. More calories are deleted, sleep is manipulated, and obsession with the numbers becomes a slave-driver. Fat levels become too low to maintain body temperatures, so downy peach fuzz hair shows up all over the anorexic’s body. The muscle begins fueling the body since there aren’t enough calories from food to burn. Occasionally, the anorexic will binge eat; it is the body’s effort to survive. Some anorexics resort to greater lengths to lose weight by using diuretics, laxatives, or vomiting. Usually, at this point, the victim is convinced they are fat still, the total opposite of reality. Women with this disorder stop having periods. Soft downy hair covers the body to insulate, even though this person is always cold. Hair loss, brittle nails, and tooth decay are prevalent symptoms. The belly protrudes despite efforts to flatten the tummy. This person’s body begins to go into survival mode as if being forced into starvation. Without intervention, the magnesium and potassium levels are too low for the heart to beat effectively. This person could eventually die of cardiac arrest. Many do. (Anorexia Nervosa, 2018)
There are several factors behind this reverse addiction, as I learned in Alcoholism and Addictions at Boyce Bible School in 1996. People most prone to anorexia are:
- those with obsessive-compulsive disorder
- rape, incest, and molestation victims
- domestic violence survivors
- those who are in the public eye, and expected to appear or behave idealistically, i.e., pastor’s kids, performers, gymnasts, cheerleaders, dancers, musicians, actors, and models.
- those who have been overweight and picked on severely as children.
A counselor told me that no one truly recovers from anorexia that it’s a lifelong struggle. I had indeed been miraculously healed, but not everyone is. I believe God used that healing to reveal Himself to me, along with many other instances, leading to my salvation later. Now, I take in around 1,500 to 1,800 calories per day. Still, I don’t track it obsessively anymore (I originally wrote this blog post in 2015 and updated it in 2022). I haven’t let myself drop below 110, although my immune system has kicked up my calorie burn when on high alert, causing me to fall to 107. That is rare, though. My mental attitude about myself is healthier because my value is in who God created me to be. Again, not everyone receives miraculous healing, but for most anorexics and bulimics, “healing” usually comes through intense counseling coupled with psychotherapy. They learn to live with and manage this disorder. Either way, intervention is necessary. Update: I have an autoimmune disease that ran my immune system in hyperdrive at the time of the original writing of this blog post. My weight was 115-120, with body fat around 20-24%. I currently weigh 125-130 pounds with more body fat than I want to see on my smart scales.
I share this with you to help you or someone you know. That’s why I wrote “The Secret to Flat Abs” with the Photoshop-ed model in time-lapse photography and “A Story Behind Every Body.”(previous website www.betotallyfit4life.net) Your value is not in your weight nor your appearance, but your identity in Jesus Christ. I promote a healthy lifestyle instead of weight loss and discourage people from using weight loss supplements and crazy gimmicks. If you can see your bones through your clothes and consume less than 1,000 calories a day, seek help now! You can find a local clinical counselor through your pastor or your local county mental health agency. May God bless you.
Are you struggling with an eating disorder or low self-image? Let me walk alongside you to help you work toward living a totally healthy lifestyle. Feel free to contact me about Christian Wellness Coaching.
Note: I own all of the photos in this post. None of them may be used for any other purpose without my written permission.
In my interview with Emily Gehman in 2018 on Static Radio, I talk about God’s healing from anorexia. http://www.solidstateradio.net/podcast/your-stories-episode-23/
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