Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Help for Eating Disorders

Last month, I reviewed a book that deeply distressed me about eating disorders.  The answers that the book had were to shift the desire for control over one's life from food to other things like relationships.  The answer wasn't what I was hoping for and what I feel in my heart as I've watched several friends live and struggle with eating disorders.

I found this quote in Starved by Nancy Alcorn "The enemy wants you to believe that because you can deny yourself food you have some sort of power over your body and over your life.  But the Bible says that we are slaves to whatever controls us (2 Peter 2:19...Satan is your adversary, your enemy.  He wants you to believe that you are in control of your life, but this is a deception tactic to keep you in bondage.  The way to walk in freedom is to choose to surrender control of your life to God instead of trying to control your life yourself."

The hardest part about eating disorders is that they begin, not out of a desire for control, but out of a desire to cope or to lose a little weight. Then they give a false sense of control and compliments from friends about losing weight feed the positive feelings.  Then they progress to a false sense of control without the young woman or man realizing that the eating disorder has begun to control them.  That is oversimplifying things, but I, like most people assumed once that someone sets out to lose a lot of weight or that they are simply trying to feel in control over some part of their life.  But, the sense of control comes later.

Or so I've read.  I have not had an eating disorder.  There was a time right after college when I wouldn't eat anything but vegetables and every time I had dessert, I made sure I worked out.  I remember eating coleslaw filled with vegetables because it was cheap and low in calories.  It's interesting for me to look back on that time because it was actually the time in my life when I had the most dates.  Was there a correlation between me being thin and getting asked out?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  There really isn't any way to know.  But, that's where it all ended for me.  I got tired of vegetables--I'm actually still tired of vegetables.  And I love dessert and sweets too much to give them up.  When I look back, I always see God's protection of me in my eating during that time.

I'd liken what happens when an eating disorder develops to what happened in the Garden of Eden.  In Genesis, first the serpent twists what God says, and then he outright lies to Eve.  The twisted truth sounds almost just like the truth so it's easy to get tricked.  There is a deception in eating disorders that draws women (and men) young and old in.  And the deception is just as dangerous.

When I agreed to read the book about eating disorders in January, I was hoping to find a book that I could recommend to mothers and daughters to help them understand what's going on and begin the journey to healing from these disorders.  I was so discouraged by it, that I began looking for another book--which leads me to the two books I need to review in this post.

The first is Starved by Nancy Alcorn.  It gives some good information, but it is basically written for high schoolers or young college students.  Ms. Alcorn's voice and style of writing alternates between textbook and good truths.

For the most part.  I did find several things in the book that disconcerted me.

One was the chapter on coming to know the Lord.  It was very simplistic.  I specifically struggled with the prayer about forgiveness.  "And Lord, I know you never caused any bad thing to happen to me in my life, but I blamed you and I forgive you right now."  Is there something about that that doesn't sound right to you?  We don't need to forgive God.  That statement reminds me of Job's friends in the Bible.  My other concern which I just realized is that forgiveness isn't actually explained.  As people, we use the word "forgive" as if everyone knows what exactly that means.  I think it needs to be explained and given examples.  That statement above which I quoted does not reflect an understanding of Romans 8:28--that God works in all things for the good of those who love us--he is omniscient, all powerful, and omnipresent.  We don't forgive God--that would imply that He had done something wrong.  There is a theology called Open Theism that does believe such things.  But, I don't believe that is biblical.

Another example of something that concerned me is at the end of the book in a chapter identifying Ungodly beliefs and Godly beliefs.  One of the Godly beliefs was that:  "God will restore all the time I have wasted or lost by my choices or the choices of others.  God gives me peace." p. 76  What does that mean to "restore" that time?  And does that statement mean (because this book is about eating disorders) that the disorder developed in response to the choices of others and to some degree can be blamed on them?  That's dangerous thinking.  Our society is all about not taking responsibility for our actions and for the most part, I felt that Nancy Alcorn talked to the young girls she is speaking to in this book about their responsibility without blaming others.

There is some good information in this book, but I wouldn't hand it to a young girl.  I might give it to a parent with a caution that I am not comfortable with some of the teaching in the book. The information about Pro-Ana websites is good.  There are good Bible verses that a parent could use to pray for their daughters to contradict the false messages that such websites give girls and even that the girls tell themselves--the lies.

There is a sequel to this book titled Beyond Starved: Real Stories of Real Freedom.  This is a collection of testimonies from young women who have healed from eating disorders.  After each story, there are several questions.  I can see this study being used in counseling between a counselor and patient.  I wouldn't recommend someone going through this on their own.  That's one of the problems of eating disorders in the first place--isolation.  Healing can only be done in community with accountability.  I liked this book a lot better than the first.  I thought the questions I read were good and it was encouraging to me to know that these young women have recovered.  Their stories share their responsibilities in their actions.  They do not deflect that responsibility to others.  Their reasoning and journeys are explained though.  As a mom of two young girls, it scared me.  I hope and pray that my girls will not find themselves on this path.  Unless you need to read this book, because you are a counselor, you have an eating disorder, or you are a parent of a child with an eating disorder, I wouldn't recommend reading it.  Sometimes we don't need to know about things unless that is what is on our plates--it can make what we are dealing with in our own lives seem overwhelming.

I am thankful for Mercy Ministries and their heart for young women living with eating disorders.  These disorders are devastating and I have heard from friends that the best success with healing from such disorders has come in such clinics where you live full time.  Mercy Ministries is pointing these young women to God, rather than themselves as hope for their lives.  We cannot save ourselves, but God in His grace and mercy can.

If you would like more information about Mercy Ministries, you can learn more here:

In the process of reading books about eating disorders, I have realized that my eating wasn't what would be called disordered eating.  But, there were definitely struggles with food and a desire to be thin was at the core of my eating habits at that time.  I am now reading Made to Crave, Satisfying Your Deepest Desire With God, Not Food.  I am hoping that this will be a book I can recommend to women about food and our ups and downs with it.  It's good so far, I'll let you know what I really think, though, when I've finished it!

Please note that I received complimentary copies of these books from Mercy Ministries.

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