“I watched her make her turkey sandwich as I sat at the end of the family table gazing into the kitchen. She methodically smeared on the mustard to reach the four corners of the bread until every inch was covered. Then she finished painting the mustard on the second piece of bread. It was, of course, 40 calorie diet bread.
Next, I watched her carefully layer the thinly sliced turkey. One piece, then another, rearranging the meat on the bread until it looked good. My first thought was that she had never had OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) tendencies. But then again, she had never before struggled with an eating disorder either. I sat there at the end of the table wondering if this sandwich-making production was a stall technique in hopes of preventing actually having to eat the sandwich. Or, was it more she was trying to process in a different way the thought of eating the sandwich so she could actually eat the sandwich?
This is not my daughter,” the dad thought. “This slow, methodical, zombie-like behavior is not my daughter! My daughter is bouncy and fun. In her friend group, she is known as the funny one! This is not my daughter.
She finally finished preparing the sandwich and eats it. It is only 200 calories, short of her 500 calorie goal for lunch, but it is something. Not necessarily a victory, but something.”
These are the writings of a dad watching his daughter as she battles an eating disorder. She has been in conflict for three months and has lost down to 20 pounds below her ideal body weight. What started out as a desire to get healthy almost six months ago ended in a war for her life.
Eating disorders encompass anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. Anorexics restrict their food intake and Anorexia nervosa is the number one cause of death among teenage girls. A person with an eating disorder is 12 times more likely to die from their disease than any other mental disorder. This disease affects males and adults as well and has exploded over the past 20 years.
In the past, psychologists and psychiatrists did not really have a method to treat the disease. They knew this disorder would lead to death, but they had no treatment plan. Thankfully this has changed in the last 20 years. There are programs popping-up all over the country in a desperate attempt to save lives.
Similar to other mental illnesses, eating-disorder behavior can be caused or fueled by other distressed feelings such as anxieties and fears. Often, it is not eating itself fueling the issue; it is about changing one’s appearance. It is easy to see how thoughts of not being pretty enough, or thin enough, or popular enough or just enough, easily infiltrate a teenage girl’s mind and life, really anyone’s life, in today’s society.
Some of the approaches utilized and championed are enabling people to overcome the disorder and are very interesting. A popular book, titled “Life without Ed” by Jenni Schaefer describes a young woman’s (Jenni’s) battle, with “Ed” her “eating disorder.” While in treatment, now over a decade ago, Jenni’s therapist had her separate herself from her entity, making it different from herself. By doing this it allowed her to fight “it” and stop fighting herself. She has had success in fighting her eating disorder this way, and has helped numerous people by approaching the disease in the same way. Many eating disorder programs find success using this technique as well.
This approach gives the entity life and blames it for the demise experienced by the afflicted. This technique does not blame you for your problem but someone else or something else. This something else has made you severely underweight by telling you not to eat. It tells you that you are too fat. It tells you no one will like you if you are fat. It tells you, you must always be the skinniest person in the room and must always eat less than everyone else at every meal. The more you obey it, the stronger it gets. It goes on and on and on until you die.
What is the voice in your head? Is it you? Is it part of you? It is your subconscious? Is it the devil? Is it one of the devil’s minions, his demons?
As with any voice in your head providing you with information, you have to decide if it’s you, the Holy Spirit, or an evil spirit. Certainly, we know God will not tell us negative things about ourselves or put negative thoughts into our minds. If you know Him, you know He is incapable of this. So, it’s down to either you or evil. But how can you blame something else when you know you wanted to get skinnier. You played a part in this process and now you are severely underweight and malnourished. Your heart rate has slowed down, and your blood pressure is lower. You feel weak and dizzy sometimes. You find yourself more irritable because of low blood sugar. You feel yourself changing, but you still can’t eat. You just don’t want to be fat. Food does not taste good anymore and you get full faster. You don’t mind because you don’t want the calories anyway.
We have to eat to live. What better way to kill someone than to stop them from eating. To me, this is clearly a way for the devil to kill you. Despite this being spiritual, there have been successful strategic ways psychiatric programs all across the country have helped people to survive. Through doing daily battle with “Ed” you are able to overcome him bringing your body restoration and healing. Sometimes after years of battle, you conquer “it/Ed/the devil” for good. Sometimes it only becomes quiescent for years to rear its ugly head again in the future.
So what is happening within these tormented teenage girls? Who is the tormentor? Is it a part of them, or the devil and his minions, or is it an alliance somehow between them and the devil. Did they somehow make a pack with the devil when they succumbed to his temptation and stopped eating? A pack they cannot get out of easily? This three-part series will follow this teenage girl battling an eating disorder and her family as they together they journey down her road to diagnosis, treatment and recovery in the physical and spiritual world.
John E. McClay, MD is a pediatric ENT and board certified as a Fellow of the American Academy of Otolaryngology/ Head and Neck Surgery. He has been married for 24 years and is the father of three girls. He is a native Texan, graduating Summa Cum Laude from Texas A&M. He obtained his medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston Texas.
He has be been named one of D Magazines Best Pediatric Specialists every year since its inception in 2003. He has also been named best pediatric specialists in the state of Texas by Texas Monthly for the last eight consecutive years. Dr. McClay has presented at national and international medical meetings as an invited lecturer. He has appeared on local radio and television programs. He is actively involved with the LEAP foundation. He is also the creator of the PediatricSinusCenter.com, providing comprehensive information to parents about all aspects of their child’s sinus and allergy problems. Dr. McClay is a follower of Jesus Christ. His prayer every morning is that he performs the good works that God has laid out before because he knows that’s where life is.
Cover photo taken by Neil Atkinson.