Eating Disorders: The Secret Struggle

The other day, as I was organizing hair ties, clips, and accessories into a color coordinated box, I was struck by the idea that I am a girl mom. Evelyn, Tonya, and Renee (six years old, three years old, and ten months old respectively) have entangled my world with curly hair, nail polish, and shoes for every occasion. As I sat arranging this box, the haunting statistics of eating disorders invaded my thoughts. The statistics say that 50-70% of women struggle with some form of an eating disorder. That’s at least two of my daughters.

Would it be my perfectionist people-pleaser and fashionista, Evelyn, perhaps to engage in social eating only to purge later? Perhaps my controlling and oppositional Tonya would grasp for a handle in an uncontrollable world and use anorexia to manage her already chaotic body. Maybe it would be Renee, this rainbow baby still in my arms whose personality is only beginning to blossom. The statistics say at least two of them, not even considering my son. A recent newspaper article by Sophia Bernett from the East Anglican Daily Times said that this addiction was growing and the initial struggle was decreasing to as young as seven years old. What am I going to do?

In a panic to do something, I asked a friend about their own experience with peers in this regard. She said “Eating disorders were never talked about when I was in school [25 years ago], but looking back I can see that nearly everyone I knew struggled with eating and what they looked like.” She went on to describe the difficulty of knowing more precisely because things like this just aren’t talked about. Private battle, or secret sins, whatever the given name, are best kept in the shadows. Mim Udovitch, in his article, “A Secret Society of the Starving,” first published in The New York Times in 2002 said, “Women with eating disorders really thrive in a lot of ways on being very disconnected.” The secretive nature of this struggle reminds me to be honest with my girls, and ensure the emphasis of our relationship is deeply personal.

As I consider my own years of battling weight loss and body image issues, I don’t feel I ever struggled with an eating disorder or self-harm any more than most. However, with those I have walked along side, the destruction of eating disorders has never started out with that intention. A few pounds to lose turned into more. Innocent comparisons of beauty have become a gateway to extremes. But being “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:4) has more to do with the Creator than the creation. I am reminded to be careful of my attention to my own physical appearance as my girls see their reflection beside me in the mirror.

The cultic nature of eating disorders has once again brought light to the human heart’s propensity to worship. Like the people of Israel using the plundered Egyptian gold the Lord had given them to make the golden calf (Exodus 32), it should come as no surprise that we would take the bounty that God has given us and distort it so as to foster empty worship. By their very nature, eating disorders bend the knee to food instead of the Lord Jesus Himself. I will instruct my girls, by my life and my words, of the wondrous grace of our God that reflexively elicits our highest worship.

How will I combat the lie that my girls will be tempted to believe, whether it be regarding eating disorders, or an alternative form of addiction, anger, or shame? I will give them a script for their battle, and I will use this script in my own battles in front of them: “Jesus, help.” “Jesus, I need you.” “Jesus, thank you.”