I want to start out by saying something.
I nearly couldn’t go through with this post, because I felt, almost, phony answering these questions. Because the fact is, no recovery is perfect. There are things that I am still working on. There are things that I still can struggle with from time to time.
Recovery is a journey, and I don’t want to put on some false pretense that I’m some guru or some Oz-like short guy with a Napoleon complex, flashing smoke and mirrors behind a velvet curtain.
Additionally, I’m not a doctor/therapist/dietician…I have no credentials other than a certified procrastinator, so please, my answers are just from the view point of a young woman, who battled a severe case of anorexia, and is now living abundantly in freedom.
That being said, I want to thank you all for the outpouring of love and feedback and questions since last week. I was so touched by the stories you shared with me. You all inspire me each and every day.
And so I’ve gathered up a lot of your questions – combined/grouped many themes, etc.
So buckle up, this is going to be a long one…
What provokes one to become anorexic? Is it natural or is it peer pressure?
This is a really important question that honestly is different for every person.
Inside the mind of every girl or boy with an eating disorder is The Lie. – And it’s different for everyone. But it is a mental tape that plays over and over, and it feeds the disease.
It is usually developed or learned early on – maybe someone said something that scarred them. Perhaps they had a traumatizing experience. Or maybe it was a learned belief through situation or environment. But typically the lies are something along the lines of, “I’m not good enough.” “I’m a failure.” “I don’t deserve love.” “I’m a burden.”
Mine was, “I need to be perfect to be loved.”
Anywho. It sounds incredibly simple, and like — head shakingly basic — but she believes this Lie to her core. Enough to become enslaved to it. Enough to die for.
And the key to recovery is to figure out what that Lie is, and to replace it with the Truth – that she is a child of God and gets her worth from Jesus.
Anorexia is not something that you just decide to develop because you want to lose weight or become “pretty.” The weight loss is merely a symptom of a deep hurt – a wound that has become a belief system to her. That’s why they say, anorexia is not about the weight. Because even after inpatient and she gets the weight on, usually there is a relapse, because even though she may be physically “healed,” she is still mentally in her disease, and will revert right back to where she was. It’s all about The Lie.
What is the link between fasting for God and anorexia? And by embracing recovery, are we renouncing God because we’re refusing to fast?
I have actually blogged about this very topic, as my anorexia began when I gave up sweets for Lent one year in high school. So to take my words from this post:
“So. Lent. You can bet your bottom dollar that I won’t be giving up sweets any time soon.
And in fact, I won’t be doing any dietary fasting, period. It is detrimental to my recovery to fast, even for one day, even for religious reasons. I have vowed never to abuse my body and withhold nutrients from it ever again. I made that promise to Jesus and myself. And tbh, I think it gives Jesus more joy for me to eat and nourish myself for His glory, than to fast and flirt with the behaviors that nearly took my life ten years ago today.
I will instead fast from negative self talk. From thoughts and lies that erode my self worth. From comparing myself to others and setting the unattainable standard of perfection for my life/body/possessions. I will instead fill myself with His love for me. “Feast” on His words of truth and love. “Feast” on the joy that comes from His forgiveness and from His saving and healing hand in my life. This is Lent.”
How does a parent help her child work on her healthy eating (and even losing unhealthy weight) while not feeding into ED?
This is a tough one. For YEARS during the beginning of my recovery, food was just not talked about. My parents stayed away from the “other four-letter-‘F-Word” with a 10 foot pole. Which was both good and bad.
If your daughter is in recovery from anorexia, and has become unhealthy, it is definitely something that will take some finesse and delicacy. If she is still under your roof, you could simply make dinners healthy and light. You could suggest taking a walk together or taking a fun Zumba class together where you can move your bodies in a healthy way.
The key is that she’s already self conscious about her new body, and any even slight suggestion that she is “overweight” will scare the pants off of her.
I’ll tell you from my own experience that one’s relationship with food will go through many stages in recovery. But that is part of the journey. Going from one extreme pendulum swing to the other is quite common, and will eventually even out.
After having lived in a state of such restriction and starvation, she’s getting reacquainted to her “off-limits” foods, and that is a good thing.
Keep supporting her. Try not to make comments about her appearance, but rather, compliment her on her character and personality traits. “I like how you’re kind to others. Your heart is so beautiful…” things like that.
How do I follow such a restrictive diet (the Specific Carb Diet) without feeding ED?
This is a question I get all. the. time. Because you’re right, the way I have to eat (The Specific Carb Diet) for my Ulcerative Colitis is very restrictive. And I resisted adopting this diet for a long time for that very reason. — I was in recovery. I didn’t want to live restricted ever again.
But. I was on bed rest for 11 months and it was either try this diet and see if it would work, or get my intestines removed. I was in a dire situation, because my body was rejecting every medication to get me out of a debilitating flare.
But I’m not going to lie, it is hard. But I’ve come to learn to eat-to-live, rather than live-to-eat. Food is necessary for life, and meant to be shared with people, and so I focus on the company rather than the meal. But I am diligent about keeping my calories up and keeping my exercise in check so I maintain a healthy weight.
How do you deal with extra weight during recovery if you go over your healthy weight range, and even potentially lose weight while still staying mentally healthy?
Again, your body will naturally find its set point. There often times will be a period of, shall I say, readjustment. It is pretty common. But it will even out. Your body is learning to trust itself again. It has been living in starvation mode, holding onto calories because it doesn’t know when it would be nourished again, so having that metabolism switch flipped back on can result in some body adjustment.
But staying mentally healthy, for me, honestly, I just had to keep reminding myself of the Truth. Reminding myself where my true worth came from – God.
On a nuts-and-bolts level, sticking with a meal plan is very helpful. Often times, if you’re working with a nutritionist, she/he will also “prescribe” some light physical exercise. But the body is an incredible processing machine, and so it will find its set point in due time.
How do you keep your relationship with food and exercise healthy/how do you break exercise addiction?
This is hard, because there will always be reminders of your eating disorder. For example, I will never eat canned tuna again. Or whole wheat low carb wraps. Or an Activia strawberry yogurt. Just too many horrible memories that take me back to a detrimental state of mind.
Exercise has definitely been a tough area for me. I had to give it up cold turkey for 11 months when I was on bed rest for an ulcerative colitis flare, and that’s honestly what “fixed” my addiction to it. Because addiction is absolutely what it was.
Now, I have a healthy relationship with it. I recognize that physical activity is important, and so I do it in moderation, when I feel like it. No more olympic caliber-workouts meant to punish myself to the point of collapse. I now take a gentle walk for a little under an hour most days. And that’s more for just the enjoyment of moving my body and being outside. I also pray during my walks. So it is mind/body/spirit exercise.
How do you stop comparing yourself to other girls’ bodies?
Comparison is tough. We all do it, no matter how hard we train ourselves not to. I recently wrote about an audition I just had for a beauty campaign where all the girls in the room were six foot, blond runway models…and then there’s me…haha
It’s nearly impossible not to compare.
But I’ve had to train myself to learn to see those girls I’m tempted to negatively compare myself to as children of God, just like me. My worth is not in my outward appearance, but in my heart that is occupied by Christ.
When I started seeing other girls the way that God sees them – as His children, with their own hurts and struggles and need for love and acceptance – it really helped.
That, and I just try to avoid situations that I know are unhealthy for me. I was asked two years in a row to attend a Fashion Week runway show in NYC, and I declined both times – because I knew that was a triggering situation for me where I’d just be comparing myself to unnaturally thin models. I’m staying away for my own good! Same with watching the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show…No ma’am!!
How did I get over the fear of weight gain and BMI?
This is the million dollar question. Seriously.
I’m going to tell you a secret. I don’t own a scale. Haven’t for several years. I get weighed at the doctor, and I do it blind because I don’t want to know.
The fear of weight gain was real. My journal from inpatient is just filled with the fear and anxiety from that looming “weight range.”
And I honestly had to just give it over to Jesus. Which, I know sounds like the biggest bunch of “Bull” ever, but that’s how I got through it. I just clung to Him, because I was paralyzed in fear.
It helped me once I realized that my thinness — my scary thinness — was pushing people away. People didn’t want to be near someone whose appearance scared them or made them feel “icky.”
I was hungry for love and friendship, and I knew that being a skeletal spectacle wasn’t going to get me either.
What was my experience with body dysmorphia? How do you recognize and overcome those thoughts?
What is the best advice you have for not binge eating? –
Binge eating, I’ve come to realize, is something that everybody does. Maybe it’s just on Thanksgiving and Halloween, but the fact is, food is meant to be enjoyed, and yes, sometimes we overdo it. But honestly, our bodies are incredible machines and can handle it every blue moon.
However binge eating — on a habitual basis, due to an emotional need, where it’s getting in the way of your life — that is a problem. And yes, I went through a binge period myself, and it filled me with so much shame, I still feel my chest tighten when I think back to that time.
You’d wake up in the morning and just feel so dirty and so shameful and disgraceful, and yet during the binge episode, it was fulfilling something that I needed.
And that’s the answer – the bingeing is you self-medicating for something you need in your life. Maybe you’re lonely? Or have anxiety about something? Maybe you’re grieving a loss? Whatever it is, the bingeing is your answer on how to exert “control” when you feel you have lost that ability elsewhere.
So this takes some serious self-reflection and prayer, to figure out the emotions that are causing the binge. Keep a journal and write down how you were feeling before/during/after a binge. See if you can see any patterns, and try some other coping mechanisms.
For me, being with people and being accountable really helped.
But what really helped was praying through it. I felt a “binge” coming on…I just started praying. I would think about Jesus on the Cross. Because honestly – this is going to be pretty dang blunt – thinking about Jesus literally hanging there with nails going through His hands and feet for me, dying…made that cookie or that pint of ice cream just seem…well…I lost my desire to binge on it.
*shrugs* I told you…blunt
If there is a person in my life that I feel has an ED, is there a good way to go about helping them? What are some things that someone who loves a person suffering from this disease can say that would be encouraging, loving, uplifting, and open the door to communication?
This is such an important question. It’s vital, and it is incredibly delicate and tricky.
So here’s the thing. I never actually admitted to having an eating disorder until I was three days into inpatient, and that was only after all the doctors and therapists and dietitians and everyone basically drilled it into me until I admitted it. I was adamant that I didn’t have an eating disorder, and that my weight loss was because of my ulcerative colitis – which was true, to a point.
And thinking back, I think the reason I was so adamant, was because of a) pride. But also because I felt there was so much shame associated with anorexia. I believed that having anorexia made me a horrible person, at my very core. That I was shallow, superficial, looks-obsessed, and someone that needed to be hidden away. I felt that I would be letting everyone down, and that I was some big failure as a human and would reflect poorly on my family because I had this “fear of eating complex.”
So I think the thing I would say is, be honest. Be open. And be nonjudgemental.
Use the words, “eating disorder.” Don’t let there be a stigma or any shame around that phrase. Name it. Because your daughter will pick up on any inkling of “hush-hush-ness” attached to it, and that will deepen the shame that she already feels about her engagement in ED behaviors.
Here’s what I would say: “Hi honey, how are you? I want to have a conversation with you about something. I have always been your biggest fan, and I respect you and the beautiful life you’re creating for yourself. And so I want to talk with you about something that I’ve been noticing recently. I know you are capable of making healthy and positive decisions for yourself, but I’ve noticed that you’ve [been skipping meals, going to the bathroom after meals, working out in an extreme fashion, stopped eating a lot, etc.] And I just want to tell you that, you don’t need to feel ashamed of any feelings you might be having. And I want to talk with you about them. But let’s be open with each other. Because high school is hard, and there are so many difficult emotions and situations to navigate, but there are more positive ways to deal with the stress than taking it out on your body.”
And then, I would just listen. Let her speak. Most likely, you’ll get a grunt or a denial. But this opens up the conversation, and lets her know that there is no shame in coming to you when she is finally ready to talk.
If things are truly dire, and it is getting to a critical, life-or-death situation, then an inpatient facility is absolutely where she needs to be.
I’ll just leave this post here: For Parents
How can parents best support a child in hospital? Is the best thing to distract her, read a book, do a drawing, etc?
In hospital…hmmm. I think the biggest thing is to treat her like a person rather than her disease. It’s so hard, because there’s so much stress and it’s the big elephant in the room and so pressing, but what’s important to remember is that your daughter is hurting. Underneath the silent treatment and the anger and the lying and denying of food and all that crap that accompanies an eating disorder, is your precious daughter (or son) who is hurting right now. And the weight loss is just a cry for help, and her way of trying to cope with what is giving her pain. So honestly, I would try and talk to her. If you want to do something mindless at the same time, like doing a puzzle or playing cards, sure – but I would just try to get her to open up and talk about it. Share your own vulnerabilities with her to set the stage. The more open and honest and vulnerable you can be about yourself, the more that will give her assurance to reciprocate.
I’ll leave this here: The Million Dollar Question
What would I say to the girl who has an uncommon recovery, with a highly unstable weight, bouncing from severely depleted, to medically obese several times?
Weight fluctuations are definitely common during the “readjustment” period, because again, the body is rebooting its metabolism and learning to trust itself again. Starvation mode is literally that – your body’s way of trying to keep you alive.
That being said, I do think it is important to follow a meal plan, especially during the initial season of recovery, because your body needs to remember its hunger cues and what fullness feels like. One big thing for me, was that I never knew when to stop being “full.” And so for me, full meant being “stuffed.” And that became a very triggering feeling that would often lead to a binge.
Lastly, in this person’s email, they labeled exercise as harmful. Which, yes – if you are addicted to it, then absolutely, that level of extreme exercise is detrimental. However exercise itself is not bad, and in fact, I believe, part of a full recovery: when we can exercise appropriately with the proper motives behind it. It is often used as a form of self punishment, or as another way to “purge” calories. If that is how you’re feeling about exercise, then yes, you should not be participating just yet. But exercising out of love for your body, enjoying moving the body that God gave you – then yes, I think that exercise can be incorporated into recovery. (This is obviously if you’re at a healthy, and stable weight and are medically cleared by your doctor to engage in physical activity.)
If I find my daughter is secretly exercising or lying about what she eats, what should we do?
Ok, so these are both definite red flags for an eating disorder. And I don’t mean to say that to scare you or anything, but these are the two things that I absolutely did.
I would definitely confront it, and just ask her why, in a nonjudgemental, safe-space sort of way. If she feels she should be ashamed, it will just delve her deeper into secrecy.
I would also be on the look out for other “Watch For Signs.” (See below)
What advice for parents do you have on what we can do to help our children with this disease? Some do’s and don’ts?
Do: Treat her as a person, not as a case to be “fixed.” Listen with compassion and be there for her. Tell her you’re concerned. Encourage her to get help, and provide her with options for care. Learn about the disease and be prepared to have a difficult conversation about the harmful effects. Pray for her. Express your love for her. Be prepared to stage an intervention if things get dire. Realize that your daughter is being manipulated by the eating disorder, and that the lying, angry, isolated shell of the girl you know is not who she is. She is fighting for her life against a force that is stronger than her right now and needs you – needs your love, compassion, concern, and help.
Don’t: Gossip about her or put her on public “prayer request lists.” — She needs to be able to trust you. It’s her story to tell, not yours. This is one of the biggest things my mother made sure not to do, and her keeping that trust intact was so so important and vital to our healing. Don’t scrutinize every calorie ingested, or weight. Don’t comment on her appearance. Don’t say things like, “You’re better than this. Or What will the neighbors think? Or how can our daughter have an eating disorder?” – or other things that send the message that there should be shame attached to her suffering. Don’t label foods as “good” or “bad.” Don’t engage in power struggles over food.
Here’s a little insight: Don’t Tell Me I’m Beautiful
How do you handle poor body image when it creeps back into your life?
Great question, because honestly, this is still an area that can trip me up. And so my advice: give the mirror a break. I know that may sounds pretty drastic, but if there’s a day where I’m not feeling that great about myself, I know that the best thing for me is to not stand there and scrutinize myself in the mirror with such negative self talk that would make a sailor blush.
I try and remember that I am more than a body. I am a soul…a heart and mind that love Christ, and that I have a beauty that goes beneath the skin.
Other simply practical things…on those bad body image days….don’t go clothes shopping. Not good. Also, avoid tight fitting clothes, and be with supportive people. Lastly, do something that takes the focus off of yourself – do something nice for others. And pray.
Can you give a parents’ “Watch For List”/early signs of things that they should be aware of that may be signs of ED in their son or daughter?
Aside from weight loss… Withdrawal from activities and social engagements. Disinterest in things. Often having excuses for missing meals, or having “other plans” to eat with someone else (read: I already ate with Susie. I’ll get a hot dog at the football game. i.e: not with you.) Denying hunger. Dressing in layers. Being cold all the time. Obsession with food – talking about it, going shopping for it, watching the Food Network/reading Pinterest recipes/Tasty videos at an unhealthy level. Obsession with calories/exercise/diet/fat/body image. Overexercising. Talking about calories or the need to “burn off” what she eats. Denying dessert. Not wanting to go out to eat/eat in public. Having a rigid/strict regimen. Cooks meals for others without eating. Going to the bathroom directly after meals. Loss of period. Fatigue/increase of sleep. Conversely, a spike in hyperactivity — always needing to be moving, jittering, “going.” Refusing to eat certain food groups. Eating with food rituals, like patterns, cutting food up into teeny tiny pieces, lots of chewing, absurd amount of liquid with meals. Dry skin. Cold hands. Fine body hair. Struggles sleeping and going to the restroom. Loss of hair/falling out in clumps.
So there you go. I pray that these offer some hope and answers for those who need it.
And this is actually a great time to announce that my first book is going to be released next month, and it will be talking about many of these topics and offering a hands on, work-through approach for those suffering, as well as insight for loved ones.
I’m really excited about it. I wish there would have been something around like it when I was suffering – it would have really expedited my healing process.
If you ever have any other questions, feel free to email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll do another Q &A post 🙂
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