Anorexia in Christian teens:
How to identify it, what to do about it, how families can help
anorexia? Anorexia is a persistent avoidance of food, but not from
eating too much. Anorexics may want to eat but are unable to
— without necessarily knowing why. They have little control
over the disorder until treatment starts taking effect.
The most widely publicized form is anorexia nervosa. If
you have anorexia nervosa your body becomes thin and
may drop to half the weight it should be — yet
you still will not eat. The disorder affects more females then
males, and can affect any age group.
Many people think the media should take some blame for
portraying the idea that “superthin” is desirable. They
say that magazines and glamorous TV ads too often use thin models.
This can build up a wrong image in impressionable young minds that
being underweight is normal and good.
Others point out that food and weight loss are usually only the
surface of an anorexic's problem. Underlying problems may include
low self-esteem, a craving for attention, an attempt to punish
themselves, a need to have complete control over something, and
many other reasons.
Teens reveal their path to anorexia
Some teens who have recovered from anorexia said they chose
skinny people as role models and tried to be like them. But one
sufferer told us: “Anorexia isn't about being skinny —
it is about something taking control of your mind and body. It was
never to do with skinny role models for me. I just knew I needed to
lose as much weight as I could until I was nearly dead.”
“You don't just find your body becoming skinny,” she
said. “You start to listen to a voice that isn't your own. It
is as if the illness takes on a form of its own. You isolate
yourself and sometimes don't even lose much weight. An anorexic at
nearly a healthy weight has just as much mental torment as one that
is half dead.”
In November 2009, BBC News reported that researchers from Beat, a charity that deals with eating disorders, interviewed 600 16-25-year-olds with eating disorders. They found that 91% said they had been bullied, and 46% said they believed that bullying had contributed to their eating disorder.
When someone first develops anorexia it may not be obvious. As
time goes on they become secretive about eating habits, and may
seem preoccupied with themselves and with food.
They begin to lose weight, and may become obsessed with
exercise. You may notice their clothes becoming looser. In the
deeper stages of anorexia, personality changes and physical changes
become very obvious. Sufferers becomes depressed,
self-absorbed, and may feel overtired. They become noticeably
skinny and bony, more sensitive to cold, and young women may stop
having periods. Their body may become hairier, they can faint from
malnutrition, and hair may fall out.
Long-term, anorexia can damage the heart and ovaries. Acids the
stomach produces can rot an anorexic's teeth. Sufferers of anorexia
may develop manic depression, suicidal tendencies and
What families can do
Friends and family need to let the anorexia sufferer know they
love her, and that God loves her too. Family and friends are also
victims of the disorder. They may feel that the anorexic doesn't
care about them any more because of the self-preoccupation, but
more than anything the anorexic needs unconditional love and
Watch those nicknames!
Calling someone hurtful names when they are young may contribute
to that person's becoming anorexic. Calling someone
“tubby,” “porky,” “stringbean,”
and other hurtful names is cruel and insensitive.
It is normal for some people to be overweight or underweight
when they are 11, 12, or in early teens, but this weight usually
evens out as they grow older.
And watch for signs of bullying. This can be absolute torment for some people, and as mentioned above, research shows that a huge number of people with eating disorders have been victims of bullying.
Thin doesn't equal success
Some people look at superthin models and think that thin equals
success. But for every thin person who is successful there is a fat
success story as well. For example, Oprah Winfrey was successful in
television when she was overweight. So was actor John Candy and
actress Kirstie Alley.
If you think you may be anorexic, you need to seek medical
advice quickly. The problem with many anorexics is that they either
don't believe there is anything wrong with them, or they won't
admit that getting overly thin is a problem. This makes treatment
difficult, because the first big step toward a cure is to want a
cure (or at least accept that you need a cure).
You should want to look in that mirror and see and know that you
are a normal person once again. It is important for sufferers to
know they are not alone and that they didn't choose to get sick.
Family and friends need to be sympathethic — not
The treatment for anorexia usually takes three stages:
- Accept that you need help, then cooperate with the
- Gain weight from eating the right foods and having good medical
- Maintain your correct weight by building a positive and
sensible attitude toward yourself.
What does the Bible say?
The Bible doesn't mention anorexia by name, but there are verses
that relate to it. A physician told us she once suffered from
anorexia. When she was recovering she came across a Bible passage
that helped change her life. It is Psalm 107:17-21, which tells of
people who, because of their separation from God, abhorred all
manner of food. Any anorexic will identify with this loathing of
food. But the Bible adds that “they cry unto the Lord in
their trouble” and He saves them out of their distress.
Getting rid of that separation from God is the key.
The Bible says that you are a temple of God
(1 Corinthians 3:16 and 2 Corinthians
6:19). This means you must look after your body. Fight against
anything that will harm your body.
Ephesians 5:29,30 tells us we should not hate our bodies, but
feed them and cherish them as Christ loves the church, because we
are members of Christ's body. First Peter 3:3,4 tells us to concern
ourselves with what is on the inside rather than the outside.
Steven Curtis Chapman recorded a song called Fingerprints of
God, with lyrics that may hold some encouragement for suffering
“Just look at you,
You're a wonder in the making;
Oh, and God's not through,
No — in fact He's just getting started …”
A helpful website is Judy's Story — the story of a
recovered anorexic who has written a book on how she survived
anorexia. The site is at http://www.angelfire.com/ms/anorexianervosa/
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