Back to School (Eating Disorder Awareness Education)

This back to school season always strikes me with concern. Eating disorders are often triggered by the college experience. Statistics show some startling realities:

“As many as 10% of college women suffer from a clinical or nearly clinical eating disorder, including 5.1% who suffer from bulimia nervosa.
Studies indicate that by their first year of college, 4.5 to 18% of women and 0.4% of men have a history of bulimia…”
(The National Institute of Mental Health, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders)

Indeed, it was my reality. As a child and a teenager who always struggled with her weight, I determined college to be my “reinvention.” If I could just be thin, I could be a new, better person. And so, oh, so slowly, I descended into eating disorders. I discuss it in my book, “Thin Enough: My Spiritual Journey Through the Living Death of an Eating Disorder.”

It started as a diet. However, it didn’t stop there. Eventually I was engulfed in anorexia, culminating in an unhealthy low weight of eighty pounds, not to mention, weakness and dizziness just to name a couple of health issues I encountered. Furthermore, that anorexic condition eventually morphed into another dangerous disorder, bulimia; I gained one hundred plus pounds within a number of months. And, with that rapid weight gain, I experienced heart fluttering, shortness of breath and suicidal thoughts. Simply stated-I was miserable, unhealthy and out of control.

Eating disorders don’t happen overnight. Often, these behaviors have been developing for many young people for years prior. However, college, with the major lifestyle changes, stressors and pressuring expectations of young adulthood can lay the groundwork for disordered eating to thrive. Whether it’s the need to be perfect, compete in athletics, measure up to parental or peers’ expectations or cope with anxiety and major changes, many young men and women wrongly believe their chosen eating disorder is the desirable “answer” to their problems. And so, they learn the techniques, sometimes even teaching them to fellow roommates, practice the behavior and, before long, they have gone further in chaotic choices than they ever dreamed. Personal health, goals and life plans are all threatened, seemingly, “out of the blue.”

And, most damaging of all is the spiritual impact. The eating disorders’ lies often do an insidious and thorough job of convincing the young person of the ultimate lie: God hates you and will not/cannot save you; therefore, it’s hopeless. That’s where I found myself.
And, it’s taken me years to spiritually relearn God’s Truth.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:38-39

“I have chosen you and have not cast you away.” Isaiah 41:9

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?” Jeremiah 32:27

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go: I will guide you with My eye.” Psalm 32:8

The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” Jeremiah 31:3

But how much pain could have been avoided if I had been aware of that reassuring powerful Truth when I was in college? How much pain could I have avoided if I went in to college, fully knowing the dangers of the eating disorder path?

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” Hosea 4:6

This time of year, back to school emphasizes knowledge and learning. And, it’s at this time of year I encounter many frantic young people, with all manner of food, weight, body image and self-esteem issues, going off to college, fearful of what they’re facing.

So, along with God’s Word, which never comes back without its intended purpose accomplished (Isaiah 55:11), I’ve provided some questions and things to look out for if you believe someone is struggling, or if you, yourself are suffering from eating disorder tendencies.

Eating Disorder Signs To Look Out For:
Perfectionistic about appearance and achievement
Obsessed with food, dieting, counting calories, etc.
Excessive exercising (hours at a time)
Isolation from family and friends and secretive behavior (in example: exercising in the middle of the night, binge and purge sessions when alone, constant weighing of oneself)
Drastic weight loss, weight gain, fluctuations, (may also have a puffy face, scraped knuckles and hair loss)
Possession of laxatives, diet pills, diuretics and “thinspo” material
Stealing roommates’ food and money
Self-critical, depressed and/or displaying erratic mood swings
Displaying cross addictive behavior: in example, alcohol/drug consumption, shopping, sexual activity, self-injury (like cutting oneself)
Wearing excessively baggy clothes
Frequent trips to the bathroom, especially after eating
Frequent absences from classes, work or other activities

Questions To Ask:
Do I having an eating disorder?
Do I expect to be perfect?

God’s answer to that question…
The LORD will perfect that which concerns me… Psalm 138:8

What’s my definition of beauty/performance?

God’s answer to that question…
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made… Psalm 139:14

How do I view food?

God’s answer to that question…
“Is not life more than food?” Jesus, in Matthew 6:25

How do I view exercise?

God’s answer to that question…
For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. 1 Timothy 4:8

How do I see myself right now?

God’s answer to that question…
“Since you were precious in my sight… I have loved you…” Isaiah 43:4

If your answer to the eating disorder question is “yes,” it’s not hopeless. But it does require action, professional help and support from others.

If You Have Anorexia Nervosa
Don’t diet. Never ever. Instead design a meal plan that gives your body all the nutrition it needs for health and growth. Also get 30 to 60 minutes of exercise or physical activity three to five days a week. More than that is too much.
Ask someone you trust for an honest, objective opinion of your weight. If they say you are normal weight or thin, believe them.

If You Have Bulimia Nervosa or Binge Eating Disorder:
Don’t let yourself get too hungry, too angry, too lonely, too tired, or too bored. All these states are powerful binge triggers. Watch for them, and when they first appear, deal with them in a healthy manner instead of letting the tension build until bingeing and purging become the release of choice.

Make sure that every day you touch base with friends and loved ones. Enjoy being with them. It sounds corny, but hugs really are healing.

Keep tabs on your feelings. Several times a day ask yourself how you feel. If you get off track, do whatever the situation requires to get back to your comfort zone.

ANRED: Self Help Tips.
And it requires looking at the real truth of the situation. After all, scripture tells us…

“The truth shall set you free.” John 8:32

So, as the seasons and transitions change, learn the freedom God wants you to experience. It’s yours to claim! Educate yourself with true freedom, health, life and relationship with the True God behind it all! He’s waiting for you!

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.”
3 John 1:2

The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” Jeremiah 31:3