Young People Ask . . .
Do I Have an Eating Disorder?
“Sometimes when I sit down to eat, I get nervous and I start to shake. I’m afraid that I’ll gain weight. I tell myself, ‘I have to lose five more pounds [2 kg].’”—Melissa.a
“I want to be attractive, and I’m terrified of getting fat. But I don’t want anyone to know that I throw up my food after I eat. It’s very embarrassing.”—Amber.
“I tell myself: ‘ . . . Today, I’m going to do better . . . ’ And then later in the day at some inevitable point, I binge. Guilt follows, and I want to die.”—Jennifer.
YOU want to look good, and that’s normal. You want to be comforted when you’re anxious or depressed. There’s nothing wrong with that either. But if you’re like any of the girls quoted here, you could have a problem. If you do, you’re not alone. The fact is, millions of youths—most of them girls—have an eating disorder.b
Let’s take a closer look at anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. Each of these disorders has distinct symptoms, but all of them involve an abnormal attitude toward food. If you see yourself in any of the descriptions that follow, be assured that help is available. You can get better!
◼ ANOREXIA. No matter how slim she may be, when a girl with anorexia looks in the mirror, she sees an obese person. To lose weight, she will resort to extreme measures. “I became compulsive about counting calories,” says one sufferer. “I carefully planned what I would eat for the week, skipping meals and exercising excessively whenever I thought I’d consumed too many calories. I took up to six laxatives a day.”
Before long, symptoms of anorexia start to show. Weight loss is a common sign, but the sufferer may also experience hair loss, dry skin, fatigue, and loss of bone density. Menstrual periods can become irregular or even cease for several consecutive months.
Perhaps these symptoms sound harmless, but make no mistake—Anorexia is life threatening. One study found that in time, up to 10 percent of sufferers die from their disorder, usually as a result of organ failure or other problems related to improper nutrition.
◼ BULIMIA. Instead of avoiding food, the girl with bulimia binges, consuming as many as 15,000 calories in just two hours! Then she purges what she has eaten, usually by making herself vomit or by taking laxatives or diuretics.
Bingeing is most often carried on in secret. “After school, if I came home before anyone else, I usually binged,” says one girl. “I was careful to hide the evidence.” After the binge, however, guilt set in. “I would feel terrible about myself,” she says, “but I knew that I could easily erase my actions. I’d go upstairs, vomit, and feel not only relieved but also empowered.”
Despite any seeming benefit, purging is dangerous. Laxative misuse weakens the intestinal lining and can lead to inflammation or infection. Frequent vomiting can result in dehydration, tooth decay, damage to the esophagus, and even heart failure.
◼ BINGE EATING. Like the bulimic, a binge eater will consume a large amount of food. The difference is that she will not purge. As a result, the binge eater may be overweight. Some will, however, starve themselves after a binge or engage in rigorous exercise. Sometimes when weight is maintained in this way, family and friends remain oblivious to the binger’s plight.
Like anorexics and bulimics, binge eaters have an unhealthy attitude toward food. One girl says of herself and other sufferers: “Food is our personal, secret friend—maybe our only friend.” Another says: “While bingeing, nothing else seems to matter. Food seems all important—it’s comforting—and then the binge is followed by feelings of guilt and depression.”
Even without purging, bingeing is dangerous. It can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and a number of other maladies. It can also take a heavy emotional toll.
Could It Happen to You?
Of course, most people who want to lose weight or get into shape do not have an eating disorder. Still, after considering the above, you might wonder if you are heading in that direction. Ask yourself:
◼ Am I ashamed or embarrassed about my habits or rituals related to food?
◼ Do I hide my eating habits from others?
◼ Has food become the biggest part of my life?
◼ Do I weigh myself more than once a day?
◼ Am I willing to take risks to lose weight?
◼ Have I experimented with self-induced vomiting, laxatives, or diuretics?
◼ Have my eating habits affected my social life? For example, do I prefer to be alone rather than with others so that I can binge or purge in secret?
If your answers to these questions indicate that you have a problem, ask yourself:
◼ Am I really happy living this way?
What can you do about the situation?
Take Action Now!
The first step is to admit to yourself that you have a problem. “After thinking about it,” Danielle says, “I realized that I had the same feelings and habits as girls with anorexia. It was scary to come face-to-face with the fact that I did the same things that they did.”
Next, pray to Jehovah about your plight.c Implore him for insight as to what is behind your disorder so that you can conquer it. You can pray as did David: “Search through me, O God, and know my heart. Examine me, and know my disquieting thoughts, and see whether there is in me any painful way, and lead me in the way of time indefinite.”—Psalm 139:23, 24.
On the other hand, you might find that you are reluctant to leave your eating disorder behind. You may have become dependent on it, much like an addiction. This is another matter to take to Jehovah in prayer. That is what Danielle had to do. “At first,” she admits, “I didn’t really want to recover. So I had to pray for the desire to get better.”
Third, talk to a parent or other adult who is in a position to help you. Caring adults will not shame you. Rather, they will strive to imitate Jehovah, of whom the Bible states: “He has neither despised nor loathed the affliction of the afflicted one; and he has not concealed his face from him, and when he cried to him for help he heard.”—Psalm 22:24.
Admittedly, the road to recovery is not easy. In some cases professional assistance is needed.d The important thing is to take action. That’s what one bulimic girl resolved to do. “One day,” she says, “I began to realize that purging was actually controlling me. Yet I wasn’t sure I could stop. Finally, I did the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I asked for help.”
You can do the same!
More articles from the “Young People Ask . . .” series can be found at the Web site www.watchtower.org/ype
a Some names in this article have been changed.
b Since the majority of those with eating disorders are female, we will refer to sufferers in that gender. However, many of the principles discussed here also apply to males.
c When distressed, you can be assured of Jehovah’s personal care by meditating upon such scriptures as the following: Exodus 3:7; Psalm 9:9; 34:18; 51:17; 55:22; Isaiah 57:15; 2 Corinthians 4:7; Philippians 4:6, 7; 1 Peter 5:7; 1 John 5:14.
d Christians should be sure that any treatment they pursue does not conflict with Bible principles.
TO THINK ABOUT
◼ Do you think you might have an eating disorder? If so, whom can you go to for help?
◼ How could you help a friend who has an eating disorder?
[Box on page 19]
“I think you have a problem . . .”
If a family member or friend says those words, fight the urge to be defensive. Suppose a friend noticed that the hem on the back of your dress was unraveling. Wouldn’t you appreciate her speaking up before it came apart? The Bible states: “There exists a friend sticking closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24) When someone comes to you with concern over a problem you may have, that one is proving to be just that sort of friend!
[Box/Picture on page 19]
“I had to be thin”
“I started losing weight. Then I had my wisdom teeth out, and I couldn’t eat. That plunged me into anorexia. I became obsessed with my looks, my figure. I was never thin enough. My lowest weight was alarming. I did so much damage to my body! Now I can’t grow my nails. I messed up my internal clock. I have had four miscarriages. I’m in early menopause, and my metabolism barely works. I also have colitis. All of this because I had to be thin.”—Nicole.
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If a relapse occurs
You might gain the victory over your eating disorder, only to relapse weeks or even months later. If this occurs, do not give up. The Bible acknowledges that “the righteous one may fall even seven times.” (Proverbs 24:16) A setback does not make you a failure. It only emphasizes the need to strengthen your resolve, to recognize the warning signs that a relapse is imminent, and to open up, perhaps once again, to supportive individuals who can help you.
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Read more about it
If you suffer from an eating disorder, you would do well to read up on the subject. The more you know about the problem, the easier it will be to fight it. Likely, you will benefit by reviewing the helpful information that appeared in Awake! of January 22, 1999, pages 3-12, and April 22, 1999, pages 13-15.
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A NOTE TO PARENTS
If your daughter has fallen victim to an eating disorder, what can you do? First, carefully review the information in this article and in the other references provided on page 20. Try to understand why she has resorted to this behavior.
It has been noted that many with eating disorders have a low self-image and are perfectionist in nature, setting unreasonably high expectations for themselves. Make sure you do not contribute to these traits. Build up your daughter. (Isaiah 50:4) And to counteract perfectionism, “let your reasonableness become known.”—Philippians 4:5.
Also take a close look at your own attitude toward food and weight. Have you unwittingly overemphasized these matters, either by word or by example? Remember, youths are extremely conscious of their appearance. Even teasing about “baby fat” or the normal growth spurt of adolescence can sow seeds of trouble in the mind of an impressionable youth.
Once you have prayerfully thought the matter through, have a heartfelt talk with your daughter.
◼ Plan carefully what to say and when to say it.
◼ Express clearly your concern and your desire to help.
◼ Do not be surprised if the first response is defensive.
◼ Be a patient listener.
Most important, become part of your daughter’s efforts to get better. Make recovery a family affair!
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You might have to pray for the desire to get better