TREATING EATING DISORDERS

part I

 

Medical intervention.  If the severity of the behavior has become life-threatening, or is on the verge of becoming life-threatening, medical intervention is necessary. This may mean hospitalization, both to prevent the patient from harming his/herself further and to implement measures that will stabilize the body.

Abstinence. Often it is beneficial or necessary for people with eating disorders to abstain from certain foods, people, places, behaviors, and/or thoughts to keep from "stumbling." To abstain means to voluntarily go without something. Alcoholics abstain from drinking alcohol, drug addicts abstain from taking drugs. Obviously gluttons can't abstain from eating food, but they can identify food triggers that typically lead to a binge and abstain from those foods. Compulsive exercisers can abstain from exercising more than once a day or make a firm decision not to exercise for longer than a predetermined length of time. Some people abstain from weighing themselves or looking at themselves a certain way in the mirror each morning. Any rituals connected with the disorder should be abstained from. Anorexics abstain from behaviors such as cutting food into exceptionally tiny pieces, chewing food for unnecessary lengths of time, or arranging food in certain ways on the plate. Bulimics abstain from throwing up or using laxatives, no matter how bad they've blown it with overeating. Compulsive eaters can avoid trigger foods or abstain from things like eating free samples at the supermarket or eating food off of their children's plates after meals. Particular thoughts can be abstained from by "casting down" those thoughts when they come and deliberately thinking about something else, something lovely and of "good report" (2 Cor. 10:4,5 and Phil. 4:8). In this way, abstinence plays a valuable role in breaking destructive patterns.

The word "abstain" sounds suspiciously to an addict like the word "deprivation." In fact, the world teaches us that these terms are synonymous. You can look at the idea of abstinence as "giving up" something or "letting go" of something, but I believe the Bible teaches us to view it as "throwing away" or "cutting off" something that is bad for us, which is a positive thing. Take a look at Mark 9:43-45 and Matt. 18:8,9. Jesus taught that if something causes you to sin, to stumble, to fall down'get rid of it! Even if it's something as near and dear to you as though it were a piece of your anatomy. Whatever it is, it isn't worth it. The cost is too great. Binge foods, scales, thinness, exercise regimens, relationships, ways of thinking, etc. can be pretty important to people with eating disorders. How important? So important that they are willing to continue their lives in craziness for another month, another, year, another decade? Alcoholics attempting to get their act together often spend a great deal of time initially trying to figure out how to drink moderately, like "normal" folk. Eventually they come to the sorry conclusion that all that time and effort was merely wasted, because it is an impossibility. Food addicts will make the same argument, insisting that with God's help they will beat the odds and come to a place where they can eat just one reasonable serving of a trigger food, for instance just one candy bar, one doughnut, one serving of potato chips, or whatever. Nothing is impossible with God, they say, and of course, that is true. However, isn't it possible that the food that is being clung to has been exalted to an exceedingly great position of importance? Why devote months or years to realizing the "miracle of moderation" when the offending food item(s) can be cut off today and the walk in freedom begun right now? It's only food!

Former alcoholics will tell you that when they first quit drinking they thought they were going to die. Their craving for alcohol was "larger than life" for a time. But eventually, those intense feelings of deprivation subsided, until they vanished altogether. When you "throw something away" that is bad for you, at first it hurts and leaves a hole, when it's been a pervasive presence in your life. But hallelujah, that hole closes in and the hurt heals after a season'just stand firm and trust God. Complete, feeling-good freedom is on the other side. The Bible says this in a passage concerning resisting the temptations of the devil: And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast (1 Pet 5.10)

Establish a support system. Let people help. Some people with eating disorders can be completely indiscriminate in their selection of confidantes while others find trusting difficult or uncomfortable and prefer isolation. God did not create us to be islands, and He often uses others to teach us, guide us, and love us with His love. Even so, support persons should be thoughtfully chosen. One golden rule is to refrain from hanging out with negative, defeated people.

A support system should/can include a pastor and/or counselor, close friends, loving and relatively healthy family members, or a support group. People in the support system should be let in on the good as well as the bad, the failures as well as the successes. In this way, the person recovering from an eating disorder opens himself to needed accountability, correction, encouragement, prayer, and celebration.

Blow your own cover. For example, I told my husband that if he started noticing me looking for kind of strange reasons to go out at night (like to run an errand that could easily wait), to confront me because that was a common binge cover-up for me. It is harder to slip into eating disorder behavior if the people around are aware of the problem and knowledgeable of the warning signs. One of the reasons people with eating disorders don't confide in others is because they want to leave their options open. This amounts to planning for disaster. If a person is serious about recovering, he should make it as hard as possible for himself to return to the behavior.

Treatment (Part 2)
OPENING PAGE

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