Starving for Help
-Understanding the warning signs of an eating disorder
By: Dwight Bain, Nationally Certified Counselor & Certified Life Coach
Starving to death is common in third world countries because they don’t have enough food to eat. Starving for help is a different yet equally serious problem because it isn’t about getting enough food to feed the physical body, rather, it’s about restricting food for the purposes of controlling body image. Starving for help is fueled by the struggle over 80% of American women experience daily, because that’s how many women are dissatisfied with their appearance or have deep insecurities their weight; which often can lead to developing an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia. In the United States eating disorders have become serious health problems impacting almost 10 million women and over a million men according to research from the National Eating Disorders Association, yet the overwhelming majority of people struggling in this area feel too ashamed to ask anyone for help so they suffer alone in silence.
Consider how often we hear warnings about the risk factors from things like driving without a safety belt, smoking, driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol or being victimized in an abusive or violent relationship; because these serious issues are openly discussed from beauty shops to Bible study groups. However, consider how little we hear on the very real dangers of an eating disorder which can begin silently in any home at any time leading to devastating problems that impact an entire family and too often result in the tragic loss of life.
This special report is designed to help you or someone you love better understand an eating disorder and more importantly how to deal with key issues to help someone struggling alone in the darkness by bringing issues out into the light so others can come alongside to help you overcome this common, yet often crippling disorder. Keep track of the warning signs and symptoms you identify while reading this resource so you can be better informed and equipped to take positive action to change the areas you see that need attention, because you can’t fix an eating disorder alone.
FACT: The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is twelve times higher than the death rate of ALL other causes of death for females between fifteen to twenty-four years of age
FACT: 20% of women suffering with an eating disorder will die from health complications, many before they reach their thirtieth birthday
Can you think of any other life-threatening condition affecting young women that our culture remains so silent about? Eating disorders are rarely even whispered to be a common problem in our homes, schools, churches or communities, yet the research shows epidemic levels in every segment of society, especially among young women, with some girls beginning to struggle with acceptance about their body image as young as nine years old. These girls miss out on so many positive experiences throughout their teens and twenties because they are always hungry, always on a diet and rarely if ever feel accepted or valued for who they are because of the pressure to look and act a certain way to gain approval and attention, which sometimes are confused as a substitute for acceptance and affection. God designed our bodies to be the ‘skin’ that would house our ‘soul’ and bases our worth on who we are, not what we look like, however in today’s modern culture it seems that what you look like determines more about how people treat you than who you really are on the inside.
If you have college-age, (or younger), family members or friends there is a great likelihood that one or more of them are battling this secret condition, because 86% of people struggling with an eating disorder began the process before they reached the age of twenty. Sadly, once the battle begins it will last for a period of several years to often as long as fifteen years for the majority of those who are caught in the grip of anorexia and bulimia. Here are some other conclusions drawn from an extensive review of the clinical literature and published by the International Journal on Eating Disorders, (2003), to help you see the hidden health dangers from anorexia and bulimia.
40% of newly identified cases of anorexia are in girls 15-19 years old.
Significant increase in incidence of anorexia from 1935 to 1989 especially among young women 15-24.
The incidence of bulimia in 10-39 year old women TRIPLED between 1988 and 1993.
Only one-third of people with anorexia in the community receive mental health care.
Only 6% of people with bulimia receive mental health care.
The majority of people with severe eating disorders do not receive adequate care.
Many colleges and even more high schools have extensive training programs to equip students in dealing with the very real health dangers associated with abusing substances like drugs and alcohol or participating in casual sex, yet schools and faith based organizations are almost silent on the dangers of eating disorders. When the topic does come up it seems to be more associated with a Hollywood celebrity in rehab than a common, yet secretive disorder likely hurting some young women you already know through school, work, church or in your neighborhood. To look at it from another perspective, consider how many times we have seen a whole community come together to search for one college co-ed feared to have been abducted or worse, while not realizing that this disorder slowly kills thousands of women every year right under the noses of the people closest to them who don’t even realize that they are dying inside.
WARNING SIGNS OF AN EATING DISORDER
Extreme weight loss
Extreme weight gain
Fear of being fat
Talks frequently about food, feeling, fat and the fantasy of a perfect body
Constantly compares self to the thin models and actresses seen in magazines or TV
Always seems to be eating or never seems to be eating
Prefers to spend time alone and at home
Strange eating rituals or behaviors
Wears layers upon layers of clothes
Always complaining of feeling cold and pale looking
Excessive about exercise
Dry and thinning hair
Excessive food stains on clothing or in the car
Excessive food wrappers in car, closet or under the bed
Loss of menstrual cycle
Always tries to be perfect
(Source: Deedra Hunter, LMHC
Certified Eating Disorder Specialist with the LifeWorks Group)
Sometimes when the topic of anorexia or bulimia comes up people act shocked that it could actually be a real problem or give insensitive feedback like ‘just get over it’ or ‘stop acting this way’ or ‘she just needs to eat something and she will be fine’ or the opposite ‘she just needs to lose a few pounds.’ Eating disorders aren’t something you can just get over with simplistic advice or a new diet because there are multiple factors driving this serious condition, including psychological, relational, cultural, medical and spiritual issues all intertwined and emeshed together, which is the biggest reason why you can’t successfully deal with an eating disorder by yourself.
The good news is that with the help of supportive and healthy people around you, you can win the battle over an eating disorder, but remember, it is still a battle that takes some time to overcome and can’t be fought alone. God knows the struggles you are facing, and I believe has already placed resources around you to help guide your path to find a way out of this confusing mixed up maze involving food, mood, frustration and motivation centered around the key faith issues that can become a safe shelter when we read about God’s love and acceptance of us through His message of hope in the Bible.
Personal Growth Exercise on Approval & Acceptance: Psalms 139 is one of the best places that you can read to really understand God’s great love for you- no matter what you are struggling with right now! I suggest that you take time to read Psalms 139 in the Bible, verse by verse and then personalize it to fit your name and situation, so that you are literally rewriting those verses penned by King David thousands of years ago into a very personal message from God to you in the middle of whatever you are facing right now. This journaling exercise has helped me so many times personally that I know it will be of encouragement to you today as well, so don’t delay- just try it!)
Remember that you aren’t alone, so stop for a minute and think about the many people or places where you can turn for support right now. This may include healthy people who have overcome an eating disorder in their past, or they may just be loving and supportive people like friends, family members, spouses, co-workers, support groups, Bible study groups, recovery programs, church programs, treatment centers, doctors, dieticians, nutritionists, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, trainers, and the list can go on and on depending on the complexity of symptoms you or a loved one may be facing.
Eating Disorder checklist for signs of Anorexia or Bulimia
—I hate how I look.
—I hate how I feel.
—I feel powerless.
—If I could control how I look, I would be happy.
—I obsessively weigh myself more than once a day.
—I obsessively think about food.
—I eat when I’m not hungry.
—I hide how much I eat.
—I hide how much I vomit.
—I hide how much I exercise.
—I hide how much I take laxatives and/or diuretics.
—I hide my true feelings.
—I avoid conflict at all costs.
—I avoid being around people because I feel fat.
—I have a hard time eating when other people are present.
—I have a hard time asking for help.
—I avoid letting people really know me.
—I feel a lot of guilt over my past.
—I feel a sense of shame about who I am.
—I feel a sense of low self-worth.
—I feel good because I’m a perfectionist.
—I wish I could just disappear.
—I wish I could stop my pain
If you answered yes to five or more of these factors you could have some of the serious signs that would indicate an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia and should seek a more complete evaluation from a qualified medical or psychological professional to protect your health
Some of these root causes are extremely powerful and complex, leading a person to the point of starving from the very thing God designed our bodies to need every day- food. Our bodies need food to survive, so understanding the connection between food and feelings can help move you from seeing food as the enemy to simply viewing it as the basic source of energy for our body to function as God designed. When you consider the millions of people struggling or suffering with an eating disorder, or the tens of millions of people close to them who don’t know what to do to help, gaining insight in this important area can bring relief and hope to someone you know who may be hurting, alone and afraid from not knowing what to do to escape this serious disorder to find the freedom and peace of feeling acceptance from who you really are on the inside, no matter what size body God designed for you to walk around in on the outside.
To learn more about helping someone struggling with an Eating Disorder check out:
Remuda Ranch- national faith based program to treat eating disorders & help for parents
National Eating Disorder Association, (NEDA) http://www.NationalEatingDisorders.org
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders http://www.anad.org/
The LifeWorks Group has a series of helpful resources on eating disorders, as well as numerous parenting resources and links from a Christian Counseling perspective to help you or a loved one- http://www.LifeWorksGroup.org
NOTE: you can freely redistribute this resource, electronically or in print, provided you leave the authors contact information intact in the box below.
About the Author: Dwight Bain is a Nationally Certified Counselor & Certified Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change. Critical Incident Stress Management expert with the Orange County Sheriffs Office, founder of StormStress.com and trainer for over 1,500 business groups on the topic of making strategic change to overcome major stress- both personally & professionally. He is a professional member of the National Speakers Association and partners with corporations and organizations to make a positive difference in our culture.
Access more complimentary counseling and coaching resources from The LifeWorks Group by visiting their extensive posting of blog’s and special reports designed to save you time by strategically solving problems at www.LifeWorksGroup.org