WHERE DO EATING
 DISORDERS COME FROM?

It seems to be human nature to always want to understand the "why." What causes an eating disorder to develop?

 

People with eating disorders and those who treat them have forever been trying to place the blame somewhere, typically outside the person with the disorder; we want to believe that our problem happens to us, rather than in us. Society loves and adores the victim model. Commonly, we are taught to blame our problematic behaviors on negative life experiences and the people who contributed to them, or on disease, or even on genetics. Personal responsibility is not too popular a concept in most circles.

I want to outline here the five internal reasons for the practice of an eating disorder:

Possession of a "sin nature."

All human beings are born into this world with a nature passed from Adam that embraces sin. Sin is a sad fact of life. In fact, according to the Bible, the sinful nature cannot keep from sinning (Romans 8, particularly verse 7). People with eating disorders have become heavily enmeshed in sins such as idolatry, lasciviousness (lust for pleasure, indulgence), gluttony, lack of regard for God's temple (the body), extreme vanity, envy, self-centeredness, selfishness, control, rage, fearfulness, dishonesty, and theft, to name a few.

Free will.

I know it is extremely hard to hear, and even harder to accept, but an eating disorder is a chosen lifestyle. Just as everyone possesses a carnal, or sinful nature from birth, so also do we come into this world with a free will. Most people don't really realize just how free they are to choose. The fact is, much of what we feel victimized by we actually played a huge part in bringing on ourselves because of choices we have made (Please note that I am not suggesting that we choose the hurtful, cruel words and actions that are inflicted upon us by other people. That is a ridiculous notion.). We choose our actions, our thoughts, and our beliefs, and through these choices, we also choose our emotions. If someone says, "you're stupid," you have a choice to believe or reject that statement. Granted, if a person hears this again and again, it is a tough thing to resist, especially for a vulnerable and immature child, but it still is a personal choice. The neat thing is that the power of choice also can bring about the reversal of the fallout from such damaging choices.

An eating disorder is first preceded by a thought. Then another thought, and then another. Eventually these thoughts become a meditation. The meditation sooner or later leads to an action. Very often, a person does not realize at this stage of the game how serious it all really is, and how "bound" she will soon become. The action is repeated, others are added, and soon habits are formed. Weeks, months, and years of thinking ED thoughts and performing ED behaviors go by and the stronghold is established.

Lack of self-control.

The characteristic that is common to all eating disorders is the feeling of helplessness. Yet, in actuality, an eating disorder is the cumulative effect of a series of choices. People do in fact get to a point where the ability to choose seems completely spent, but originally, choices were available, and choices were made. We use the word "compulsive" to describe people and behavior, when we actually mean "impulsive." No one forces anyone else to eat weird. A drug addict can became "hopelessly" addicted after the first shot, but he/she was doomed to become a junkie when he/she made the succession of choices that led to a willingness to try that first hit of the drug. It works the same way with unhealthy eating habits.

Many people who have suffered terrible tragedies in their lives believe that people or events caused their eating disorders. It is my educated opinion that a person with a lust for food, for instance, will find SOMETHING to eat over; it might be a big thing, it might be little things, it might be almost everything. When the Lord began healing me emotionally, and my life was getting better and better, and a many of my excuses for overeating were gone, I remember well how startling it was to discover that one big reason I overate was because I wanted to eat. It may not have been the main reason I started over-eating, but it surely was the chief reason I continued to do it. I love tasting and swallowing delicious foods, period. All I needed were excuses, and excuses are a dime a dozen, aren't they?

Undisciplined thoughtlife.

Not only do people with eating disorders lack discipline to control their thoughts about eating or not eating, but a whole lot of other thoughts are raging out of control. Ungodly, and therefore unhealthy, preoccupations run rampant. Untruthful, unproven, and otherwise destructive statements and ideas have been permitted to repeat again and again in their minds, becoming "tapes" which they play to themselves. This is how a faulty belief system is formed, and it influences both emotions and actions.

Disordered people spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about themselves and their problem. They may appear to be people pleasers, but their constant giving is often a control measure. The hope is that if they are just nice enough, good enough, helpful enough that they can in effect manipulate people into the desired response, thus they hope to establish a sense of security through the approval, respect, and loyalty "due" them by others. Knowing that someone is angry or upset at them, or otherwise disapproving, gives rise to feelings of fear of rejection or even abandonment. It also serves as "proof" to themselves that they really are bad, worthless, stupid, and undeserving of love.

People with eating disorders generally have a wrong self-concept. They typically are self-loathing, self-condemning, self-punishing, and utterly self-absorbed. They may hide behind a convincing facade of confidence and well-put-togetherness, and they are often high-achievers, but they don't know their intrinsic worth. Their fragile self-concepts are built upon the wrong foundation and are heavily influenced by distortions and lies.

Unforgiveness, which keeps people mired in their past, is fed and kept alive through thoughts. Carrying around unforgiveness can act as an incentive to drown painful feelings with eating (and/or other pleasures) or to overly control the body (through starvation, overexercising) as a peculiar response to uncontrolled emotional pain. Unforgiveness stymies the healing process.

Spiritual deficiency.

I mention this last, because the previous three are all really a result of this one: A person currently practicing an eating disorder is hurting spiritually in at least some area.

Not always, but often, a person practicing an ED is not praying. She is either not praying at all, or else not consistently. Just like a marriage, or a friendship, or any other important relationship, your intimacy with God is dependent on quality, regular communication.

Another common problem is failing to recognize sin as sin. Many Christians, for instance, do not consider overeating to be synonymous with the "gluttony" spoken of repeatedly in the Bible. Such a Christian may be doing very well spiritually and taking dominion over her flesh in many areas, but she's hardened her heart when it comes to her eating habits. Similarly, an anorexic Christian may not equate his unnatural thinness with the destruction of God's temple. Rationalization plays a key role here, as the glutton says to herself "God made food for His people to enjoy!" and the anorexic extols the "virtue" of self-control and a "fasted life."

Other Christians are properly convicted of sin, but they are insufficiently taught and so their spiritual ignorance keeps them from the victory that belongs to them. Every believer's teacher is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches as He speaks through our pastors and as we spend time reading and meditating the Bible on our own. Your pastor can only deliver to you what the Holy Spirit has illuminated in his own spirit; all else he passes to you is from mere human understanding. Furthermore, if there is some part of God's Word that he doesn't like or overlooks for other reasons, He cannot minister to you in that area. It is important that you know your pastor is spending a great deal of time praying and meditating God's Word, because that will determine what and how much THE teacher, the Holy Spirit, is able to deposit into his spirit to give to you! And as you spend your own time reading your Bible and praying over it, there is a limitless potential for the Holy Spirit to "lead you into all truth" (John 16:13). It's a matter of how much time and effort you are willing to put in. How hungry are you? (NOTE: Hunger for God and His truth can be "purposely" stirred up and developed!)

We know from 2 Peter 1:3-4 that the person who has a spirit that is alive to God (born again) has access to every Promise needed to overcome every evil desire she can possibly encounter. If you are overtaken in a sin, there is Word from God that needs to be illuminated in your spirit by the Holy Spirit. For this reason, prayer and getting God's Word into your spirit are THE crucial elements for overcoming an ED.

Yet another scenario is the backslidden Christian or one who has a very shallow relationship with the Lord. This person is walking most if not all of the time in his flesh rather than in his spirit. Every attempt to overcome an ED is purely under his own steam. Failure is his trademark.

And others are simply trying to navigate life completely separate from God.

Those were just a few examples. In short, a mature Christian, communing with God, conformed into the image of Christ will not perform eating disorder behaviors. But none of us have completed the process to perfection, nor will we as long as we live on this earth and dwell in these temporal bodies. We can only pursue "Christlikeness" and "press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:14). The fact that a person is caught up in an ED is proof positive that something is wrong, some stone hasn't yet been turned. Ask the Lord to show you what it is!

Though I believe eating disorders are primarily a result of an internal condition, there are external factors which play a more minor role.

Media.

 In modern, technologically advanced nations, we now have such widespread and sophisticated media that it is impossible to avoid exposure. Radio, television, books, magazines, fliers, posters, motion pictures, and now the Internet inundate us daily with images and criteria of beauty. By way of these same avenues, people, but women in particular, are taught that physical attractiveness, as defined by the powers that be, is our most important asset. A fear is hammered into us day after day, year after year, from the day we are born, that if we are not pretty or handsome or thin, we will not be loved and that we do not even deserve to be loved. What is worse, the mindset created by this propaganda has led to a society of people who behave in such a way that many do experience rejection based upon their physical appearance alone.

 

The body has become an idol for many, many people, and the pursuit of thinness or physical excellence a driving obsession.

Taste temptations.

Boxes of prepackaged cream-filled cupcakes and bags of potato chips haven't been around forever. While media influence has increased dramatically, so have the culinary temptations. In today's supermarkets, entire aisles are dedicated to high fat, sugar-laden, chemical-sprayed, preservative-soaked, artificially colored and flavored tasty treats that are more powerfully addictive than cocaine! There are so many items and brands to choose from and eating any or all of them is perfectly legal! The proliferation of restaurants, 24-hour supermarkets, and convenience stores has increased the accessibility of every imaginable food greatly.

Advertising is rampant. The same media that places demands of physical perfection on us also cruelly entices us with pictures and descriptions of a vast variety of food delectables. Not surprisingly, many find themselves locked into a war of desperately wanting the very foods that will undermine their quests for beauty. Upon losing that battle, one way or the other, the guilt, shame, and terror can be so overwhelming for particular people that bazaar behavior patterns emerge, which we call eating disorders.

Circumstances.

Abuse, trauma, neglect, and adversity in life places pressure on people. Not all people respond to and cope with pressure the same way. Difficult circumstances combined with other factors previously mentioned can create the right conditions to favor an eating disorder. Some people "medicate" and anesthetize themselves with activities and/or substances, including food. Others gain a much desired sense of power through rigid control of food intake, to the point of starvation. Still others find eating disorders useful for gaining attention, although usually at first they are not aware that this is what they're doing.

Poor role modeling and a lack of education, direction and discipline in the home rob children of the opportunity to develop the character and skills necessary for a healthy adulthood.

Spiritual adversaries.

The devil is a real, yet invisible foe we must contend with, and his "friends" have daily assignments to try and trip us up. In fact, from the moment of our conception, plans are made and the first traps are laid intended for our spiritual incapacitation and eventual destruction. However, bear in mind that Satan can only tempt us because of our internal capacity to be tempted. He appeals to us through what our flesh already wants to do! (see particularly James 1:14) Or else he develops lusts in us through repetitious behaviours. Also worth noting: Satanic forces do the vast majority of their work in the human mind.

I believe that the idea of eating disorders was birthed in the heart and mind of the devil, and that for years and years and years the world has been systematically seduced into cooperating with his plan. Not for a minute do I believe that the Standard Western Diet (SWD) or the emphasis on beauty and corrupted sexuality brought to us daily by the media are an accident or a product of chance. I think people with eating disorders would be thoroughly astounded if they knew just how orchestrated their "fall" actually was.

 

Treatment Pt.1
OPENING PAGE

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