Friday, April 5, 2013

Invisible Eating

After I survived my teen and college years, I came to realize that it was only by the grace of God that I did not have an eating disorder or disordered eating habits.  I fit all the classic markers of someone who could be anorexic.  I'm a perfectionist with very high standards for myself.  I fall into the trap of seeing weakness as worthless and failure as a sign of such worthlessness.  I was ladened with guilt as a teen and anger.  I desired control over my life and had a hard time submitting to God's authority.  I held onto my anger and grudges.  as a means of feeling into control.  Mercifully, God has brought me out of so much of that, but I still see how my thinking could have gotten very easily twisted and unhealthy quickly.  

I recognize now that young and old women alike seek control in their lives in the area of their eating habits.  I read an interesting article in the Baltimore Sun a few years ago that explained what disordered eating was.  This is a definition I found on the website "disordered eating means having an unhealthy relationship with food and/or your body, one that diminishes the quality of your life and affects your overall health – physical, mental, and/or emotional"  In my mind, disordered eating describes eating that doesn't fit under bulemia or anorexia, but is still characterized by abonormal eating habits which are practiced in order to control a part of one's life.  By abnormal, I do include things like my habit of working out immediately if I had dessert in my early twenties.  I had a fixation on staying the same weight and watched everything I ate.  I diligently avoided fats in my cooking.  My definition may not be scientific, but it's the definition that I've come to after reading a lot and observing how people live.  
Eating disorders are types of disordered eating.

When I worked with a high school group in Colorado in my early twenties, I used to ask the girls that I met with these questions:  "Did you eat today?", "What did you eat today?", and "Have you been eating?"  Out of a group of twenty girls, I knew three to four who had significant issues with eating and not eating.  Eating is an issue we struggle with as women.  

It is a struggle on both ends of the spectrum--overeating and not eating.  I remember eating out with my grandmother one time when I was twenty at a buffet.  I looked at her and asked her if she stopped eating when she was full.  She'd been going to a weight loss group for years.  She said plain and simple, "No.  I eat until I want to stop.  Don't you?"  I was surprised.  I replied that I ate until I was full.  That meal made a huge impression on me.  The older I've gotten, I've come to realize that for me, it gets harder to resist a food I love when I'm full.  

I know this is an issue that we need to support each other in, encourage one another in, and have compassion for each other.  Recently, I read a fiction book that intrigued me.  I knew before reading it that it was going to address these issues.  I wondered if it would be formulaic, corny, unbelievable, true to my story and the stories of women I've known?  What I found was that it was one of the better Christian fiction books I've read in a while.  The ending isn't quite a perfect happy ending, but it is in the ways the reader hopes for the most.  

The book is Invisible by Ginny L. Yttrup.  The title is very apt because women
control their eating often because they either feel invisible or want to become invisible.  There are three main characters in the story:  Ellyn, Sabina, and Twila.  They each have difficult, but different emotional struggles that they need to deal with.  Ellyn is overweight and struggles with overeating.  Sabina is dealing with some difficult pain that has begun to consume her.  Twila is recovering from treatment for anorexia.  She is walking day by day and continues to see a counselor as she recovers her health and life.  

I enjoyed the plot and couldn't put the book down until I'd finished (in two days).  I did read every word and didn't skip pages or sentences, which is always an indication to me that I genuinely like a book and I'm engaged in what I'm reading.

I was most curious about how she dealt with anorexia and portrayed Twila's character.  From the stories my friends who live with eating disorders have shared with me, Twila's story seemed very realistic to me.  Ms. Yttrup tells this character's story with compassion.  

Ellyn's emotional struggle is essentially the same as Twila's, but her response and actions have been different.  Ellyn overeats so that she can hide behind her weight.  She is a chef, so it seems reasonable for her to eat high caloric foods regularly.  Both women are responding to deep pain that they experienced growing up and not feeling like they measured up.  

Sabina's wounds are different, but equally painful.  I liked that the author doesn't portray one character's struggles as worse or harder than another's.  

There were several other facets of the story that I appreciated.  One is that Sabina is African American and Ellyn and Twila are caucasian.  I liked that they all had different upbringings.  I also appreciated how the author addressed the faith, or lack of faith, of the three characters.  How the author handled the walking "through the valley of the shadow of death" times for each character revealed her understanding and compassion.  

Most of all, I appreciated how the author explained the struggles Twila and Ellyn faced with their eating.  It was well handled and I hope many women will be able to hear the message in the book.  Struggles with eating are ongoing.  They don't end, but they can lessen and be tackled day by day.  It is God and God alone who can heal the deep hurts in our hearts.  Food, or controlling its place in our lives, turns it into a destructive idol.  The characters in this book come to realize this.  

Would I recommend this book?  I would.  It isn't the best book I've ever read. The author's writing is good, but it will still fall under good Christian fiction and not good secular fiction that will hold its own.  Even so, I think it is very encouraging and hopeful, which is something that good secular books often miss.  It is worth reading and is better than most Christian fiction I've read.  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy from B&H publishing for review.

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