The theme of the 2017 National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is “It’s time to talk about it.” This is a perfect theme and somewhat paradoxical at the same time. For those struggling with an eating disorder, you are probably very aware that no one seems to want to talk about it, including yourself. You and your family may even be in denial. Yet, constantly inside your head, your eating disorder relentlessly talks to you all day, every day. The constant noise, noise, noise!!! It’s not a hallucination; it’s your own conscious thoughts turning against you, sometimes as a result of negative life experiences and low self-esteem. The noise lies to you and leads you to see a distorted view of yourself when looking in the mirror. Treating eating disorders can be difficult, long term, and requires a team of professionals that includes a therapist, medical doctor, and a nutritionist. Eating disorders are a life threatening illness and require immediate mental health care and medical attention.
One of the first goals of therapy when treating eating disorders is to help you reduce the noise inside your head by using cognitive behavioral and dialectical behavioral approaches to therapy. The noise of an eating disorder sounds like the noise of walking through an airport or crowded restaurant all day long, every day. You wake up in the morning and the noise starts by telling you what you can and cannot wear, telling you what you can or cannot eat, and criticizing your every move. “You’re fat! She’s skinnier than you! You need to work out an extra 30 minutes today because you ate that extra piece of toast! If you take another bite, you will gain weight. If only you could lose 5 more pounds. The scale wasn’t accurate, weigh again, and again. You binged yesterday, now you better make up for it.” You walk around all day long as if walking through an airport terminal or being in a crowded restaurant. You are unable to fully hear what others are saying because your eating disorder is speaking the loudest. In fact, it is so loud, the only way to get it to stop is to do what it says. And by obeying, the cycle continues and you’re trapped.
At your very core, you believe you have no value and no worth. Your eating disorder controls everything you do, but deceives you into thinking you are in control. Your eating disorder places value on looks, size, and perceived “health” and fuses that with self-worth. The problem is that no matter what we look like, no matter what we accomplish, no matter how large or small we are, value only comes from one source.
My toddler son has a stuffed puppy who he lovingly named “Puppy.” He has been attached to Puppy since he was a baby. There have been phases during which he carried this puppy everywhere. The puppy has been to stores, church, restaurants, vacations, grandma’s house, and has been in his bed every night for years. The puppy has endured spilled milk, ketchup stains, colds and stomach bugs, and numerous trips through the washing machine. Despite washing this puppy countless times and patching up a few holes, after years of wear and tear, it still looks dirty and old. This puppy has done nothing for society and has no monetary value. It probably couldn’t even be sold for a quarter at a yard sale. It doesn’t speak, it doesn’t exercise, and it doesn’t go to work or school. Yet my son loves it and sees Puppy of greatest value to him. Why? Puppy has value because my son has placed value on it. Not because of anything Puppy has done, but simply because he made a decision to value this little stuffed puppy. You and I are like Puppy. We have value because Jesus Christ has placed value on us. No matter what we look like, no matter how small or large we are, no matter what weight is on the scale, there is nothing we can do to gain value and worth. We already have value and worth because Christ made the decision to place value on us.
In the midst of an eating disorder, the noise inside your head is so loud, it drowns out truth. The lies overshadow the truth that you are valued and you have abundant worth. The noise makes you think you have to measure up by looking and feeling a certain way. If you or someone you know is struggling with eating disorder thoughts and behavior, it is essential to get a team of providers to help you quiet the noise and begin working toward recovery and learn your true worth and value.
“He gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless. Youths may faint and grow weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:29-31
Heather Braddock, MA
Covenant Counseling Center