A Note From Kelly King: I still remember sitting across the table from my new friend, Stacee. As we talked, she began to share her story with me—her struggle with anorexia, cutting, and her husband losing his ministry position because of her illness. In the midst of opening up to me, she also shared what the Lord was doing in her life. Her battle is ongoing, but one that struck at the core of my leadership ability. As a ministry leader, you most likely will encounter women with eating disorders. How do you recognize the symptoms? How do you address the issue? Deb Douglas begins a new series on facing this challenge. If you or someone you know is struggling with anorexia, please seek professional help. If you need encouragement, I would suggest reading Stacee’s blog here.
Flamingo legs. The thigh gap. The pro-anorexic websites call it a goal, normal, and acceptable. The gradual acceptance of anorexia as a lifestyle choice is an epidemic. If it is a choice, is there anything wrong with being anorexic?
- Yes. Anorexia is unhealthy and has long-term health hazards. A BMI of less than 18.5 is considered unhealthy and underweight. Women with a BMI of less than 18.5 are more likely to face health challenges.
- Yes. Extreme thinness has a lifelong negative impact on the bones evidenced by the number of broken bones. Other lifelong damage is done to the heart, hair, skin, and kidneys.
- Yes. Anorexia encourages a life of isolation, shame, and fear.
- Yes. Anorexia is coupled with anxiety, depression, and denial.
- Yes. Most women with anorexia are in denial of the problem. They choose to view it as an ordinary weight-loss program, making it difficult to intercede and help.
What may have begun as a desire to loose a few pounds for a wedding, after childbirth, in response to a divorce, or in preparation for a class reunion can become an out of control problem. Anorexia is different from losing a few pounds to become healthy or beginning a new workout routine. Anorexia becomes a lifestyle of hiding, an obsession over quantities consumed, and a repulsion of food.
Here are the things we need to know about anorexia:
- Pro-anorexia websites encourage naming a woman’s eating challenge rather than calling it for what it is. “Ana” is a common named used. Naming the challenge creates an environment of denial.
- Women with anorexia are fearful of being condemned or judged. Loving acceptance and encouragement is needed.
- Anorexia requires a long-term healing process.
- Anorexia is not just a young woman’s problem. It has infiltrated all age groups, social classes, and life circumstances.
When women are in denial, avoid discussing it, and are fearful of judgment, how do we help?
- Research anorexia and educate others.
- Lovingly confront women who have become obsessed with weight.
- Check personal perspectives of weight and body image.
- Talk about God’s design for women. He created us with a purpose that goes beyond how we look.
Ana is not any woman’s friend. Anorexia grabs women’s focus away from God and away from life, placing it on an impossible desire for perfection. When our eyes slide off of God and onto our image, we are in danger of sliding into an unhealthy misery. It’s time to defriend Ana.
For more help and resources on ministering in the messy, check out Women Reaching Women in Crisis and Steps: Gospel-Centered Recovery or refer to the other articles in the Hurting Women or Ministering in the Messy categories.
Dr. Deb Douglas has served in women’s ministry for over 37 years. Now she spends her time working with Purchased Ministry, a ministry to women in the sex trade industry. Deb is also the Director of Biblical Counseling at First Baptist Church, Bossier City, LA. She was the first to graduate from New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary with a Masters degree focusing on women’s ministry and has earned a Doctor of Education in Ministry degree from NOBTS. She is “Pearl” to 3 sweet grand babies, “Mom” to Jared Douglas and Katie Chavis, and wife/sweetheart to Paul Douglas.