A note from Kelly King: I pray that you do not struggle with an eating disorder, but the reality is many people do. As Kaye Hurta shares in today’s article, there are ten million women in the United States who have an eating disorder, which means there are many more friends and family members who fight alongside those affected. As a ministry leader, be aware of the signs of eating disorders and how to support their families.
For many of us my age (think 50s), our first introduction to the seriousness of having an eating disorder came with the shocking death of Karen Carpenter. Karen Carpenter was the beloved singer in the brother/sister duo called “The Carpenters.” She died in 1983 of heart failure, likely brought on by her longtime battle with Anorexia Nervosa. She was 32.
My own experience with anorexia started much earlier. The year was 1974; my older sister was 16. (I was 13.) She was 5 feet 7 inches tall and 88 pounds. No one was talking about, let alone treating, eating disorders in our small Michigan farm town. It was a scary time. The truth is, 45 years later, it still is. My kind, tender-hearted, compassionate sister has been struggling with Anorexia Nervosa for over 45 years.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, eating disorders are “Serious and often fatal illnesses that are associated with severe disturbances in people’s eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions.”1 The most common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. It is reported that eating disorders are a daily struggle for 10 million females and 1 million males in the United States alone. This is serious; in fact, according to eatingdisorderhope.com, “Anorexia has the highest fatality rate of any mental illness.”2
Chances are you or someone you know is struggling today with the pain from disordered eating.
What can we do to help?
I wish I had a good answer to that question. The honest truth is, it has been frustrating and painful for me to watch my sister’s struggle all these years. It seems my words and advice along the way have had little effect in changing her behavior, which brings me to the answer to my question. If someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, here is how you can help:
- Acknowledge that the “fixing” is not up to you. Complete recovery is possible, but it will require professional psychotherapy along with medical care and monitoring, nutritional counseling, and often medications. If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, encourage them to get help early!
- Offer support by loving well and listening well. Over the years I have learned the best thing I can do for my sister is to love her unconditionally and listen to her when she’s hurting. Because her illness engulfs her thinking, listening well often involves putting a “time limit” on talking about it. Quite often I will offer to listen but will put a 10-minute time boundary on the conversation. Anything beyond that has to be discussed with her therapist.
- Pray like crazy. When I asked my sister if I could write about her story, she said, “Absolutely. Thank you for wanting to be a voice for this illness. It is a terrible stronghold.” Stronghold is right! I am committed to battling that with her through prayer. I cannot and will not be her counselor, but I will be a sister who prays like crazy for her healing!
I realize we have only scratched the surface in the discussion of eating disorders. If this is your struggle, I am so sorry, and I am praying for you (along with my sister) right now. Check out these websites for information: www.eatingdisorderhope.com or www.nimh.nih.gov. Additionally, if you are having thoughts to harm yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or dial 911.
Kaye Hurta has a Masters Degree in counseling from Liberty University and is a crisis counselor for Women’s Events through LifeWay Christian Resources. Whether speaking, singing, or listening, Kaye’s passion is to help others find intimacy with Christ and soul transformation through the living pages of His Word. Kaye met and married her husband Chris in Austin, Texas in 1987. They have two daughters through the miracle of adoption, Madison and Cami. They live in the Chicago burbs where they are both on staff at Willow Creek Community Church. Kaye is also a contributing author for the LifeWay resource, Women Reaching Women in Crisis.