Eden sat on her bed in her room trying to catch her breath from crying. She turned and looked at her dad who was seated in a chair nearby at her desk and with tears in her eyes she said softly, “It’s just hard, don’t cha know?”
Her father sat there, still, his eyes slowly welling up with tears. Not many things in life made him cry, but the sadness in his daughter’s soul penetrated the core of his heart. Eden had cried a lot over the past six months, but recently the tears came less frequently, were shorter lived and usually less intense. He knew she was getting better, but he also knew it was getting harder for her as she gained weight and was near being declared weight restored.
Even though physically she was getting better, she was still dealing with a distorted sense of body image. She felt too big, and even though she knew her body did not control her happiness, at times she still struggled with believing this. But right now, it was overwhelming her. She felt she was at least as big as some of her friends; yet, “she” had to continue to gain more weight. She was no longer the skinniest person in the room, a challenging realization for her, which made recovery hard.
Her dad sat wondering what happened. Just two days before at breakfast her demeanor was light and airy. She was joking with her mom about school while finishing her cheese toast and turkey sausage. She did try to eat one less piece of bread that morning, but her mom stayed firm. Eden knew if she did not eat the entire breakfast, including the second piece of bread, she would not make “meal plan” and would lose privileges, meaning she would not go to the party planned for this weekend. She took the bread, pulled it apart a few times, then ate it and got in the car to head to school. As she and her dad drove toward school they talked about having to become weight restored to beat this entity – to conquer the eating disorder. Eden seemed to accept it and understood what it took to get back to life. She even bounced out of the car once at school.
Her dad knew part of Eden’s problem had been him. He had never been a consistent disciplinarian. The Lord had revealed to him that Eden needed structure. She needed to know consequences and self-control through discipline. Eden needed to obey authority but had continually resisted because of her strong will. Over the years, Eden had not matured in her response to discipline and correction, and the eating disorder allowed her to act like a child, throwing temper tantrums out of what she perceived as pain and anguish. When her Dad finally showed Eden the meal plan must be accomplished and tantrums were not acceptable, Eden seemed to accept her reality and became more compliant. This was not easy, since often in the tantrums she would scream declaring how she just wanted to die. But through a stricter yet continued nurturing environment, Eden became more willing to try to make meal plan in order to become weight restored. There would be more struggles, but she was on the right path.
The experts say, when the anorexic becomes weight restored, they come to recognize their body is not as grotesque as they once thought it would be. They realize their friends still love them and they can stop believing the lies the devil plants in their minds. Lies telling them they have to be skinny to be loved. In today’s society this realization is a huge accomplishment.
Eden was getting close to being weight restored and hopefully close to beating the eating disorder, beating the devil. Victory from an eating disorder, however, is a tricky idea. There are victories all along recovery that must be recognized and celebrated.
1. The first victory is recognizing the problem and taking action to get help, because if these evil thoughts go unchecked and are not confronted, the devil has power over the situation. Hiding the disease, or any sin for that matter, in the dark, away from family and friends who can help, allows it to grow, fester and gain power. “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear their deeds will be exposed.” John 3.20. The devil does not want sin to be recognized, because exposure of evil means a chance for repentance and restoration of God’s child.
2. The second victory celebration comes when the weight loss is stopped and the process is reversed. This can be hard to do because of the anorexic’s hyperbolic metabolism created from the body’s reaction to re-feeding after starvation. In the beginning of weight restoration, there is a condition called increased diet-induced thermogenesis, in which twice as many calories get dispersed as heat in a person with anorexia during weight restoration as opposed to healthy people gaining weight. And in the beginning of weight restoration when the anorexic exercises, because of their significant lean body mass, they burn calories extra efficiently requiring more calories per exercise than a normal individual.
3. The third victory celebration comes when a healthy weight is restored. As the anorexics body weight does improved, it takes more calories to maintain that weight because gaining one kilogram of fat for them requires more calories than gaining one pound of fat free mass. Since they start gaining fat at some point after they have restored their muscle and organs, they do gain weight as fat, which they need. It just takes more calories to do it above and beyond an already seemingly super caloric feeding program. It sometimes takes a 3000 to 4000 calorie a day diet to have them gain 2 to 3 pounds a week to accomplish a fully restored weight.
4. The fourth victory celebration comes after weight is maintained for the next six months to a year. Often the body takes three to six months or more to stabilize to a point it can go back to a normal diet to maintain weight because it takes that long for the body to adjust back to a normal metabolism.
What I have outlined above are just the physical battles that must be celebrated and recognized as the anorexic progresses. It is important to remember and celebrate each victory as the one battling an eating disorder needs this encouragement as they continue working to overcome the future struggles they will encounter along their journey toward wholeness.
Thoughts, anxieties and other emotional trauma that led to the allowed takeover of the eating disorder must also be addressed and resolved. These can include anything about which one feels anxious. Fears of failure, rejection, and social interaction are most common.
When the voice in your head (the devil) tells you, you are not good enough for some reason, you tend to believe it. This is especially true when people prove to be as insensitive and thoughtless as they sometimes are on any given day by making comments that re-enforce these dangerous thoughts. The devil’s lies lose their credibility and sting as the person is weight restored and recognize their family and friends still love them. Being weight restored is not fat, although the eating disorder will try to tell one that. You must always remember, the eating disorder, the devil, just wants you dead and apart from his enemy, God.
In fact, the eating disorder (the devil) will always try to penetrate your head with thoughts, long after you are weight restored. Many anorexics say it takes years to get the eating disorder, “Ed”, out of their head. He taunts them with thoughts of being “too fat” or “not good enough” for years. In fact, Jenni Schaefer, who wrote the book “Life without Ed”, recently announced she was finally free of the constant criticisms of “Ed” after 10 years. This is ten years after writing her bestselling novel. Ten years after practicing recovery skills as a national personality on the subject. Battling an eating disorder is often a marathon, and not a sprint.
The reality is the devil is always trying to penetrate all of our minds for the purpose of producing inward strife. He targets the sins we struggle with most, which are different in each of us – vanity, greed, lust, power, anger, self-righteousness or any other sin that has a stronghold on our inner being. Just as Jesus was tempted in the desert by Satan, we will be tempted by Satan. We are no Jesus, but we must rely on him to conquer evil, because we cannot do it on our own.
Eden is on a tract for success. It may take six more months or six more years. Her turn-around came when she finally turned her battle over to the Lord and sought his help. I wish I could say this has miraculously made everything easy, but it hasn’t. The struggles over eating, sadness, and body images still continue. She responds today, when asked about her weight gain, “I don’t like it, but the Lord told me it was okay.” This is no way means she is free of all difficulties, but it does mean she is listening in her head to the right voice; the voice that gives her everlasting love rather than death and destruction. God is good and loves us. For Eden, recognizing and receiving this truth was the defining moment of her recovering.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder and a conventional program alone is not working, seek spiritual help. This comes through taking your struggles to the Lord. Additional avenues you may find advantageous to help you achieve medical and psychiatric restoration are Christian counseling or even deliverance. Support of family and the medical community is valuable in restoring the anorexic to their full and former life, but the key to the spiritual battle is to let Jesus in, and surrender your control into his tender and loving hands.
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.