Secrets Young Women Keep: Eating Disorders
- Tuesday, October 04, 2011
Angie tried every diet that exists. Then she began binging and throwing up. Soon she was on a weight-loss rollercoaster that caused her health problems and didn’t keep her weight down for very long. Food controlled Angie. The solution to her problem with food had always been nearby; she’d just chosen to overlook it.
My weight problem started when I was about eight years old. A thin girl around my age told me to my face that I was fat, and I remember how badly she hurt my feelings.
Most of my family is overweight. Dealing with my weight problem was an ongoing struggle throughout my childhood and teen years. Even when I wasn’t hungry I ate, but at the same time I was extremely eager to lose the weight. I’ve always been an emotional binge eater with an obsession for food. I was binging so much that both my mind and body didn’t know what was going on. Food became my comfort. I ate when I was happy and when I was sad. Sometimes I ate so much that my stomach would ache in agony. At times I had to unbutton my pants, make my way to a couch, or lie down. Needless to say, two hours later I would be right back at it.
I was really depressed over my indulgence with food, which was often. I forced myself to go on a diet. I took the latest diet pills and made false promises to myself and to everyone else that I would stay on that particular diet and lose the weight for good. But after a few days, I always clung to the food and would get into the same vicious cycle. It was as if I were in an abusive relationship with food. I loved it, but I hated how it made me feel. Food controlled me, and I allowed it to do so. I overate all of the time, and this cycle went on for years.
It was pathetic. I was embarrassed, and I felt horrible about myself. I knew exactly how I would feel if I ate too much, but I did it anyway. I knew what it would do to my thighs, butt, waist, and hips—but I continued to overeat.
At one point, I read that Albert Einstein supposedly said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” I began to wonder if I were a crazy person with an eating problem. It was so out of control that I knew I had to make a lifestyle change—so I did.
It was extremely hard, but with some help I started to get my life under control. I started drinking plenty of water and exercising every day. Sometimes that exercise might be simply parking farther away from the school entrance so that I had a longer walk, but it counted.
And I began writing about my struggles and all of the other things in my life, which has helped me in getting my weight problem under control and in putting everything into perspective. When I saw my feelings written down on paper, it helped me realize what was really going on in my life. Writing has become my therapy, along with reading a lot of self-help books, and keeping the fridge and cabinets stocked with healthy food. I’ve always enjoyed snacking a lot, but now I make sure I eat healthy snacks including fruits, nuts, vegetables, yogurt, and low-cal and low-fat snacks.
I’m maintaining a healthy weight. I feel better physically and mentally. It wasn’t an easy fix, because there is not an easy fix. And I don’t think of this as a diet; I think of it as the way I should have always been eating. Do I ever sometimes eat something really calorie-laden? Rarely, but I do. Then I go right back to eating properly. I tell my story because many other young women allow food to control their lives. If food is controlling your life, I encourage you to make a change. Make a change and make your life better.
Unlocking the Secret
Eating disorders are very serious. Anorexia and bulimia primarily affect people starting in their teens and twenties, but studies report both disorders in children as young as six and in individuals as old as seventy-six. In my practice as a psychologist, I have met with girls who have started their eating disorder at age nine and have worked with women who still struggle with binging and purging going into their sixties.
An Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc. (ANRED) report shows that more than half of teenage girls are on, or think they should be on, diets. Without treatment, up to 20 percent of people with serious eating disorders die. With treatment, that number falls to 2–3 percent.
I remember being amazed at hearing my daughter and her friends picking apart their bodies while only in the first grade. Self image, body image, and the need to be perfect or the fear of our imperfection starts very young. It starts in our disordered thinking, just as it did for Eve when the serpent tempted her that shecould be perfect like God. We all are like Eve.
In my work with girls and women of all ages who struggle with all forms of eating disorders, I am hopeful, as eating disorders don’t have to be lifelong. Sadly, not all end well, and my heart is grieved for those I have known or heard about who have died from these disorders. No one can abuse her body for long and expect to not suffer adverse consequences.
Eating disorders have often been called the “good girl” disorder, because they often affect respectable girls who are pleasing and cooperative, who are not acting out with defiant behavior. Instead they are really acting-in against themselves, and for all of their outward pleasantries, they are inwardly self-loathing and filled with emotion.
Girls often get into eating disorder behaviors out of curiosity, or when fears about themselves or growing up are triggered. They see how others have gotten thin or hear about purging tactics. Initial triggers might be about their bodies, looks, perfection, fear of not being good enough, being teased by peers, or a life that generally feels out of control.
Stacy writes about teasing between girls who already are self-conscience about their bodies and appearance.
Girls are definitely in an awkward stage when they’re teenagers, and now body image is key. Trying to look good, girls may be experimenting with makeup and don’t fully understand how to apply it. They may put on the wrong shade (which makes them look orange) or too much (which makes it look really thick). As a result, they get teased or called names.
Teenagers are always growing and will lose and gain weight at different times and rates. Some girls tend to have bigger breasts—and the guys give more attention to those girls. Then other girls will be mean and make up rumors about the girls with larger breasts being “sluts,” because they don’t get the same attention as the bigger-breasted girls. All girls are awkward about their bodies at this age. And girls will make mean stuff up about other girls to make themselves feel better. All of us girls do all we can to avoid being the target of such ridicule, even if it means hurting ourselves.
Those who struggle with anorexia sometimes want to keep their bodies looking like little girls’ bodies, so they create rigidity in their lives to maintain control. Restrictive eating and behavior gives them a feeling of mastery or success. Or they think that if they can survive on little and have few needs, they can reach a life of perfect self-control. If they achieve this, they believe they can keep bad things from happening to them.
Anorexia tends to be hard to keep secret over time. Some girls who start with anorexia flip into bulimia, using a combination of binging, restricting, fasting, and purging behaviors. Bulimia also can destroy a female’s body with the inconsistent and extreme binge-purge cycle. I’ve heard girls and women say things like, “I used to have to stick my finger or my toothbrush down my throat, but now as soon as I lean over the toilet it just comes up,” or “Food is always there like a best friend. I eat even in the middle of the night. But then I feel sick and hate myself for eating and have to get it out. The vomiting makes me dizzy and it’s painful, but I know I have to do it to get relief. Afterward, I am wrung out, and I hate myself even more.”
A person’s struggle with eating has little to do with food. It is, however, about a hunger, a longing, an emptiness. Some refer to it as “love hunger” that gets all mixed up with feelings about growing up, feeling little, separating from parents (especially Mom), and control or lack of control with family or in life.
How a young woman feels about herself affects her core feelings of purpose, image, and worth. Genesis 1:27 talks about being created in God’s image, and that means you are perfect in his eyes. He created you uniquely and with a purpose. But in this present-day world, we will not realize that perfection. Someday we will have perfect bodies but not now, and our task is to learn to accept and love ourselves in our imperfection.
In 1 Corinthians 6:12–13, the Bible says, “‘I am allowed to do all things,’ but not all things are good for me to do. ‘I am allowed to do all things,’ but I will not let anything make me its slave. ‘Food is for the stomach, and the stomach for food,’ but God will destroy them both.” I like the food analogy used here. It goes on to talk about sexual sin, but the emphasis is in using your body, the body God gave you for his glory. “You should know that your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit who is in you. You have received the Holy Spirit from God. So you do not belong to yourselves, because you were bought by God for a price. So honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6: 19 – 20).
If your secret is with food, ask God to show you what is real and ask for help before you get too far down the road. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Seek God. Tell someone you trust. And seek professional help.
There are three main types of eating disorders studied by the experts and listed in the DSM – IV—TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition/training edition):
A refusal to maintain minimally normal body weight for your age and height. Intense fear of becoming fat regardless of size. Denial of seriousness of low body weight and distortion of body shape and weight influencing a negative evaluation of self. Amenorrhea can occur, which is the loss of three consecutive menstrual cycles.
Characterized by repeated episodes of binge eating, followed by self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives or diuretics or other medications, fasting, or excessive exercise. Feeling out of control while eating in this diet-binge-purge cycle that occurs at least twice a week for a three-month period. Distortion of body shape and weight influencing a negative evaluation of self.
Now referred to as binge eating disorder it is characterized by larger-than-normal amounts eaten in short periods of time (within a 2-hour time frame), followed by physical discomfort and emotional distress, but no purging.
No one factor causes an eating disorder. Following is a list of factors that are sometimes attributed to each disorder.
• Fear of growing up
• High family expectations
• Inability to separate from the family
• Parental dieting
• Family discord
• Need to please or be liked
• Temperament—often described as the “perfect child”
• Need to control
• Teasing about weight and body shape
• Need for attention
• Lack of self-esteem
• Difficulty regulating mood
• Availability and indulgence of food
• Sexual abuse
• More impulsive—sometimes with shoplifting, substance
• Role of the media
• Family dysfunction abuse, etc.
• Obesity and reaction to the larger body size
• Emphasis on thinness as the ideal for beauty
*used by permission from the Anorexia nervosa and related eating Disorders, Inc. (AnreD), www.anred.com. For more information, contact AnreD or the national Association of Anorexia nervosa and Associated Disorders, www.anad.org.
Is an eating disorder your secret? Let’s do some work in this area right now. Take a few minutes to answer the following questions, either here or in your private notebook.
Answer the following questions.
(Circle yes or no.)
1. I eat too much and continue to eat until I feel sick. Yes/No
2. I skip meals. Yes/No
3. I skip meals because I think I’m too fat. Yes/No
4. I exercise all the time. Yes/No
5. I’m obsessed with being thin. Yes/No
6. I’m terrified of gaining weight. Yes/No
7. I often feel out of control and can’t stop eating. Yes/No
8. I throw up after I eat. Yes/No
9. I try to diet but always fail. Yes/No
Use these questions as a simple guide but not the final word. If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may or may not have an eating disorder. If you answered “yes” to two or more of these questions and spend a high percentage of time worrying about these things, an eating disorder is more likely. Either way, take the time to talk over your weight and body concerns with a trusted adult.
Originally published February 16, 2009
Excerpts from the book Secrets Young Women Keep by Dr. Jill Hubbard with Ginny McCabe used by permission.
Dr. Jill Hubbard is a clinical psychologist and a regular co-host of the nationally syndicated Christian radio program New Life Live. Known for her gentle and insightful style, Dr. Jill also has a private practice helping clients in their struggles with depression, addictions, eating disorders, and relational and personal growth issues. She is also the author of The Secrets Women Keep.
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