Eating disorders have become an epidemic in the United States. Before you or someone you love becomes a statistic, learn how to find healing in the love of Christ.
By Janet Goreham
The ceramic bathroom tile was cold against my bare legs as I hugged the toilet seat and leaned over the bowl. I peered down at my reflection in the water of the toilet…and in the mass of Mexican food I had just thrown up.
After eating, I could feel the grease from the food coating the inside of my stomach. It seemed to seep out every pore on my body. I felt dirty and contaminated by it. Everything in me just wanted to get it out.
Vomiting was not a pleasant experience, but I did it every day. It had become automatic, a normal part of eating. Whatever went in had to come out. I didn’t even think twice about it anymore.
I wanted to lose more weight. I needed to lose more weight. I felt so fat. When I walked through the halls at school I could feel the stares. They would look at me and say, “What a fatty, she’s so ugly.” They might never say it out loud, but I know that’s what they were thinking. If only I could just stop bingeing or eating altogether. Maybe that would fix things.
I wanted it all to end. Especially my weight. I just wanted everything to stop so I didn’t have to deal with it anymore…1
As many as 10 million females and one million males in the United States struggle with a life-threatening eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia2- a number equivalent to the combined population of New York City and Los Angeles. Of the number of men and women who struggle with eating disorders, 95 percent are between the ages of 12 and 25.3
Further revealing the severity of the situation are stats from the Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders. They claim that the mortality rate associated with anorexia is 12 times higher than the death rate of all causes of death for females ages 12-24. It is estimated that 480,000 people die every year from complications related to eating disorders.
These numbers suggest that not only has disordered eating among young women become a problem, it has become an epidemic. And it continues to plague American youth at an increasingly perpetual rate. Included in that population are some athletes to whom FCA ministers.
At least one-third of female college athletes have some type of disordered eating.2 The NCAA Coaches Handbook suggests that female athletes are more at risk for developing eating disorders than non-athletes. Beyond experiencing the same societal pressures to be thin, lose weight and look “good” off the field, athletes also feel the pressures associated with participating in sports—emotions that many of them handle with eating disorders.
Beyond experiencing the same societal pressures to be thin, lose weight and look “good” off the field, athletes also feel the pressures associated with participating in sports–emotions that many of them handle with eating disorders.
Many factors contribute to the development of an eating disorder— poor body image, low self-esteem, perfectionism, difficult relationships, etc. This variety is one reason why the U.S. Department of Health and Humans Services concluded that “no one knows exactly what causes eating disorders.” While this assumption may be diagnostically accurate, God’s Word clearly warns against accepting conclusions propagated by the enemy, who tricks us into believing there is no answer. Ephesians 6:12 states, “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (NKJV).
The only answer to the pandemic that is slowly destroying the hearts and lives of those struggling with eating disorders is Jesus Christ, the Victor over all suffering.
“Apart from Christ, there is no such thing as a changed life,” says Nancy Alcorn in her book Mercy for Eating Disorders. “It is impossible to overcome without the Overcomer.”
Alcorn knows from personal experience. She is the President and Founder of Mercy Ministries of America, an international non-profit outreach organization that works to transform the lives of broken women through the healing power of Christ.
Since its doors opened in 1983, Mercy has rescued thousands of women ages 13-28, from spiritual, emotional and even physical death. It provides services to women who have struggled with everything from sexual abuse and unplanned pregnancies to eating disorders and drug abuse.
“Our goal is to restore dignity and freedom back to the life of a girl, so she can fulfill God’s original plan and purpose for her life,” says Alcorn.
The three Mercy homes in the United States—Nashville (Tenn.), Monroe (La.) and St. Louis (Mo.)—and two in Australia, each housing approximately 30 girls, provide counseling, life-skills training and spiritual direction based on each girl’s identity in Christ and His ultimate purpose for her life.
Through Mercy Ministries, Alcorn now witnesses stories of healing and freedom that can only be created by Christ. One of which is told below.
A Survivor Story: Meet Laura Schultz…
|Laura Schultz has a story of survival. |
Laura Schultz once sought death as a way to escape from pain. Now, after discovering renewed freedom in Christ through Alcorn’s Mercy Ministries, she has defeated the addictive eating disorder that once ruled her life. Read her story below.
I don’t really remember the exact day that my eating disorder began. I know that food had always been important to me. I was always a good kid; I never drank, did drugs or had sex. But I ate. By my eight grade year I weighed over two hundred pounds.
I began to feel like I didn’t fit in with everyone else during my junior year of high school. I was always very involved with school activities; I maintained straight A’s, was the president of the Key Club (a service organization), and was also a member of the National Honor Society and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I was academically successful, but emotionally void. I had perfect grades and an ideal resume for college, but I felt like an outcast socially. I had entered high school believing that my personality was more important than my looks, and I never really thought I was fat or ugly. But other students quickly sent me the message that I was. The more I was teased and humiliated, the more I hurt. The more I hurt, the more I ate.
My pain began to affect my school work. I began to fail my math class and dropped to a C in my history class. This was not acceptable to my parents. My father would inquire at the dinner table, “Are you getting all A’s this semester?” A negative answer was not acceptable. My father’s motives to drive me to succeed were well-intentioned but misguided. And all I felt at the time was pressure to be the best in everything, at any cost.
A counselor I had been seeing soon recommended that I go to a teen meeting of Overeaters Anonymous. I’m not sure how these meetings were supposed to help me—a group of adolescent girls would sit around and talk about dieting, eating, laxative abuse, vomiting and other destructive behaviors—but I attended anyway.
Soon I became suicidal, seeing no point in continuing a life that was so painful and meaningless. I engaged in self-injuring behaviors, slicing my arms with knives and razors. My counselor found out, and I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital that very same day.
I don’t remember much about my first stay on the eating disorder’s unit, other than it was pretty useless. It always amazed me that on a unit where the staff is trying to teach you how to focus on your feelings and emotions rather than food, the main emphasis of every day was food. We talked about when our food would arrive, what nurse was eating with us, what we would be served that day, how we would hide what we didn’t want to eat, and how fat this food was going to make us.
The order of events at this time become slightly blurred because of the medication I was given. It progressed to the point that I was on three or four medications at a time, and my hands would shake as a result.
All throughout the struggle with the eating disorder, people would tell me that what I was feeling was not factual or true, but my reality was based on my feelings and perceptions. I was often told that I was not fat, but in the mirror, I saw a fat person. I returned to school at the same weight in which I entered the hospital.
I then rapidly began to lose weight. I slept through many of my classes because I was too exhausted from the lack of nutrition to stay awake and focused. I started my junior year wearing a size twenty-six and ended the year in a size sixteen. One teacher commented to me that I needed to eat, and I would respond, “I can’t.” Rationally I knew that I needed to eat, but I was in this battle and the part of me that thought I couldn’t overcome the battle was stronger and louder, so that part won out.
“Apart from Christ, there is no such thing as a changed life. It is impossible to overcome without the Overcomer.”
– Nancy Alcorn
Before school started my senior year I had lost a lot of weight, and my body began to rebel. I could no longer survive on the few calories I was eating. I started bingeing and purging. I started small at first, but then progressed into evening-long marathons into grocery stores and all-you-can-eat buffets. It was only at this time that it finally clicked in my head that I had an eating disorder.
How could I not be forced to face the fact that something was seriously wrong when I was spending time every day staring at my reflection in a pool of vomit in the bathroom toilet?
I also began taking laxatives to supplement my new weight-loss plan. After taking an entire box of laxatives, I would be up the entire night with cramping and vomiting. I would be extremely dehydrated, but I felt thinner.
I was constantly consumed by feelings of anxiety and dread. I tried to focus on other things, but eventually it all returned to feelings of food, weight and unhappiness. I couldn’t understand why no one saw the pain that I felt. The eating disorder had turned into my everything. It was more than just wanting to be thin. My world was myself, my food and my body. I began to wonder who could help me when I couldn’t help myself?
I had given my life over to Jesus at the age of 15 at a weekend retreat. I knew that I needed God, but I had always thought that salvation simply meant that you weren’t going to hell. I didn’t know that the Holy Spirit could help you overcome. The summer before I left for college I recommitted my life to Christ and was determined to go to college.
Even in college my body began to deteriorate. I remember one morning I went to the bathroom to take a shower and woke up on the bathroom floor covered in my own vomit. I had passed out for 15 minutes, due to the 45 laxatives I had swallowed the night before. I was so concerned about what people thought of me that I frantically tried to clean up the bathroom so that my roommate wouldn’t find out.
Eventually everything cracked. I was forced to call 911 from my dorm room because of intense chest pain. When the ambulance took me to the hospital I was going to die, and honestly, I didn’t really care if I did. I dropped out of school because I couldn’t get out of bed and spent many months in and out of the hospital. My psychiatrist told me to apply for a disability because I was never going to finish college. I qualified because I was considered mentally ill by the state.
I knew that I was dying, and every time I threw up, I would wonder, “Will I die this time?” At this point I was willing to try anything. I decided to apply for Mercy Ministries. When I informed my counselor that I was interested in Mercy, the counselor told me that if I went, she would not see me anymore. She said that Mercy Ministries was not a reputable place because it was not a “treatment center.” Over the last six years I had been treated by three separate nutritionists, four different hospitals, five different psychiatrists and five separate counselors. At this point, I really didn’t care what any of them thought.
When I left for Mercy, I knew it was my last chance—my last chance for freedom and healing—my last chance for life. And as I walked through the doors of Mercy, I knew I had finished my search.4
Beyond the Disease
Schultz’s freedom from her eating disorder did not come quickly or easily. It was a grueling process of healing and transformation. But after her six-month stay at Mercy, Schultz graduated in 1998 free from all medication and from the torment that haunted her for so many years. She finished her bachelor’s degree in 2001 and went on to achieve a master’s degree in special education.
Words of Hope
Schultz wants to share her experience with every woman struggling with eating disorders. More than anything, she wants them to know that there is hope in the Lord.
“Find out who you are in Christ. If you can search that out, your life will completely change. Life is not about what you look like or what you do. You are not valued by what you produce. Instead, you are intrinsically valuable to the Creator. You are accepted, loved and pleasing to the One who made you. When you realize that you are not defined as bulimic or anorexic, but that you are a child of God who just happens to be struggling with bulimia or anorexia, it will completely change your world.”
1 Thoughts and emotions taken from Laura Schultz’s personal journal entries (Mercy for Eating Disorders)
2 National Eating Disorders Association
3 U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
4 Mercy for Eating Disorders