Why I Won't be Wearing a Ribbon this Week

A number of years ago, participants in medical support groups began wearing ribbons to show support for themselves and other sufferers of their illnesses. The pink ribbon representing breast cancer, for example, is instantly recognizable and has helped, by its association, to raise millions of dollars for cancer research. Not to be left behind, those with behavioral addictions and psycho-somatic conditions later got on the bandwagon and developed ribbons of their own. (How wearing a ribbon helps someone with a non-biological illness, by any vague definition of "support", I am not clear).

Apparently, several years ago an online eating disorder directory declared the week of February 20-26 "National Eating Disorder Awareness Week" and exhorts those with EDs, loved ones of those with EDs, or those who used to have EDs to wear a periwinkle ribbon. The goal of this is two-fold: 1) To increase public "awareness" of eating disorders; and 2) to "support" those suffering.

Why is this unnecessary, and counter-productive?

1) The public is already well aware of what eating disorders are. The average American woman born after 1970 can recite the statistics by heart. An event like this only causes the public at large to become more callous to EDs, which are already household words. I remember in the early 1980's, when bulimia became extremely common and over-exposed by the media, a journalist snapping, "If I hear one more word about eating disorders, I'm going to have a serious case of indigestion!"

2) "Supporting" someone who is in an unhealthy, dangerous and sinful lifestyle is actually the least loving and most unhelpful thing one can do. Eating disorder sufferers do not need "support" so much as they need godly counsel and accountability, with change and renewal of the mind as the ultimate goal. "Support" makes one comfortable and complacent in one's behavior; true counsel seeks to correct and help someone develop new patterns of godly discipline.

I realize this is a sensitive subject, and I do not wish to criticize anyone who chooses to participate in the "Awareness Week" or wear a ribbon for any reason. I am simply stating my reasons why I choose not to, and explaining why this type of activity (which inadvertently glorifies the eating disorder and makes "heroes" out of those practicing anorexia and bulimia) is an unbiblical approach to a spiritual problem.

According to the web page, NEDA's Mission Statement is as follows:
Our aim of NEDAwareness Week is to ultimately prevent eating disorders and body image issues while reducing the stigma surrounding eating disorders and improving access to treatment. Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening illnesses — not choices — and it’s important to recognize the pressures, attitudes and behaviors that shape the disorder.

I see both good and bad in this Mission Statement. Of course we want to "prevent" eating disorders (if such a thing were possible -- one can no more change another's behavior than regenerate another's soul). The logic completely breaks down, however, between the first and second sentence: while NEDA claims (erroneously) that eating disorders are "illnesses", and not choices, it nevertheless wishes to "reduce the stigma" surrounding them. The fallacy of this statement is obvious -- if eating disorders were, in fact, diseases or 'illnesses', (which by definition have an organic, physical cause), why is there a "stigma" surrounding them?

If I have the flu, am I "stigmatized" because I allowed the influenza virus to enter my body? Or suppose I am diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy -- a genetic condition. Shall I be "stigmatized" because of my faulty gene pool? Of course not! The word "stigma" is used here as a stand-in for "shame".  If someone were suffering from an actual illness, why should he or she be ashamed? Could it just be....because intuitively the founders here realize, that on it's root level, anorexia and bulimia WAS a choice, and the behavior IS ungodly?

I realize that this web page, and most like it, was written from a secular, worldly perspective and not a biblical worldview. I also understand that as a Christian, I cannot hold unbelievers (particularly those in the psych fields) to biblical standards. Yet when I first began doing research in this field, one of the first things that struck me so sharply was the inconsistency (and hypocrisy) with which the "Medical Model" is applied to addictions (aka 'life-dominating sins'). If we are going to draw attention to the presumed heroism of those with eating disorders by wearing a ribbon, why are we not likewise celebrating those who struggle with shoplifting ('kleptomania')? After all, it's a "medical condition". And why not wear a ribbon to raise awareness of adultery ("sexual addiction") or pedophilia? Both of these perversions are classified as "illnesses" by the DSM-IV.

Does Wearing a Ribbon/Celebrating NEDA Awareness Week Glorify God?

As a Christian (who was actively anorexic and bulimic for nearly two decades), my answer to this is an unequivocal "No, it does not." Why not?

1.) NEDA Awareness Week glorifies eating disorders (however inadvertently) in the name of "raising awareness". Those of us who are in Christ are instructed to have one, central, driving purpose in life: to glorify God.

2) It also glorifies individuals with eating disorders. I spent only a few minutes on their site, but noticed the same tendency most similar sites have: making heroes out of those with (or recovered from) eating disorders. This is more dangerous than you may realize: turning anorexic or bulimic girls into suffering martyrs (as I have seen the media do) almost guarantees that they will not change their behavior. One young lady I know was featured on a television documentary for her struggle with anorexia, and thus procured many "fans". A professing strong Christian, several years later, she still claims to be "struggling against this disease", but the thousands of Facebook pictures she posts of herself tell another story. So much adulation has been poured on Kylie that her "disease" has become her "identity" -- she no longer sees it as wrong. Those leaving comments telling her how "beautiful" and "gorgeous" she looks in her emaciated Facebook photos are not helping matters. Whether we have repented of anorexia or bulimia or are still stuck in this lifestyle, we are not suffering heroes to be idolized, ladies. We are sinners in desperate need of a Savior.

3) WWJD? Would Jesus have you wear a periwinkle ribbon to call attention to your eating disorder battle? Or, is it just possible that He would put His arms around you, remind you of His great love, and offer you the gift of repentance once again? In the Bible we see a pattern - the Lord Jesus lovingly confronting individual sin; then pointing the person to His Father. We need more "God Awareness"; not "Eating Disorder Awareness". And we definitely don't need "Self Awareness" -- as much as the eating disordered woman craves attention, we've already seen our true selves, and it ain't pretty!

4) Wearing the ribbon perpetuates the myth that eating disorders are physical diseases. Neither anorexia nor bulimia meet any of the criteria of the medical definition of 'disease':
"When an organic cause is found, it is given a medical disease label or diagnosis. ...the diagnosis is based on some specific demonstrated problem in various bodily functions. This physical malfunction is found by examining the body and its functions by means of various objective laboratory tests. The conclusion that something is wrong with the body is based on information obtained from these tests. Specific diagnoses each describe a disease in the body. There is damage to some body tissue that can be demonstrated by objective laboratory tests. The tissue damage is producing the behavior in each diagnosis. People with organic causes for abnormal behavior are given a diagnosis based on changes in the body, rather than on descriptions of behavior."
("The Christian Counselor's Medical Desk Reference", Dr. Robert D. Smith, MD, pp. 80-81; emphasis mine).

5. It plays into the "victim" mentality already so prevalent in our society. Ladies, if you are stuck in the pit of an eating disorder, you need help. You need grace. You need forgiveness (so freely available through Christ's atoneing work on the Cross), and you need to repent. You need godly counsel and accountability; compassion and encouragement. And you need to be honest with yourself: you are not a victim. Nor are you a hero. When I interpret at the hospital for cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, I hope and pray that the money raised from pink-ribbon proceeds someday helps these victims of cancer. Please, please, out of love and respect for cancer victims and their families, let's not even attempt to put ourselves in the same category. An eating disorder is not something that you "contracted" or that just happened to you...as hard as it is to hear that. The first step in my own transformation (or 'recovery', if you prefer) was recognizing my own responsibility in becoming an out-of-control bulimic and shedding the "victim" identity. Only then can true change begin!

To anyone who may be participating in this "NEDA" event or feel it would be helpful to her, I do not wish to sound unduly harsh. However, I would encourage you to ask yourself this: "Who, or what, is glorified by this ribbon? Is the Name of Christ lifted up, or am I seeking vindication for my own lifestyle? Do I long to change my behavior, and walk free? Will NEDA help me to do that, or will Christ?"

I love you, and more importantly, so does God. He can and will set you free, if you turn to Him.


  1. Thank you for being brave enough to write this. You've made me reconsider my support for NEDA week. My energy and my words of encouragement to others are better served to glorify God, not eating disorders themselves. God really is the only one who can save someone from an eating disorder.

  2. Thanks Stephanie,

    I hope the spirit of what I said above will not be misunderstood. I haven't forgotten the pain and isolating loneliness of bulimia, but I truly believe that it is past time to move beyond "awareness" to the only lasting solution -- repentance through faith in Christ. Hopefully, in His sovereign plan, God will somehow lead folks to the Truth through this week!

  3. I have to agree with you....I fully support the ribbons for things like cancer and things where the money goes towards some sort of cause....for some reason, I have issues with the ED ribbons and a week. I think part of it is, that it feels like with one specific week or event, that that really can't do anything long-term and it really just draws attention to things....instead of a conscious effort to support kids and adults' self-esteems and abilities....I'm almost glad that my campus doesn't do anything....

  4. That's true. On college campuses, folks are at sort of an advantage when it comes to battling EDs if they avail themselves of the resources available. I found meeting with the on-campus nutritionist extremely helpful; most Student Health Centers provide that type of counseling for free. Universities tend to be "on guard" about the problem, and so generally they try to help on an ongoing basis...although it's still an extremely difficult addiction to kick, and one does truly have to want and commit to making changes.

    Thanks for your comment! Glad to see I'm not the only one who sees the ineffectiveness of the whole NEDA thing.

  5. Love this: "Eating disorder sufferers do not need "support" so much as they need godly counsel and accountability, with change and renewal of the mind as the ultimate goal. "Support" makes one comfortable and complacent in one's behavior; true counsel seeks to correct and help someone develop new patterns of godly discipline."

    WOW! I applaud you for taking this stand. I do not pretend to understand anoerexia or bulimia, but have had eating issues for most of my life. I saw your post on LeadHer and wanted to check out your blog because I write a blog called "Food:Lies We Believe and Truth that Sets Us Free." I think it complements this one very well. Renewal of the mind is my goal on the blog. I would love to "swap buttons" or somehow promote each other's blogs (as you mentioned on LeadHer).

  6. Hi Barb!

    Thanks for the vote of confidence! Yes; I would love to do a link exchange with you (actually, I need to set up a Blog List over on the right, as I've come across a few which are very edifying and biblically sound). I will probably do this this afternoon, and I shall definitely add your link.

    Thanks again for your comment!

  7. Actually all illnesses (i.e.: cancer) have both biological roots and lifestyle roots. for instance, people who smoke are more likely to get certain types of cancer, people who have an excess of fat in their diets are much more likely to get cancer. there are factors that are lifestyle choices for physical illnesses. BUt there are also biological things that increase risks. Often times physical illnesses are a combination.

    Believe it or not the same thing can be said of mental health. There are studies that show that there is a strong genetic predisposition towards mental health issues regardless of whether someone is adopted.

    nobody wakes up and says "hm, today i think i want to starve myself in a way that leads to isolating relationships, organ damage, and possibly death. hooray!". There are often thoughts that last up to decades before that/temptations. Usually there are insanely strong compulsions. further more when psychiatrists diagnosis these problems they actually assesswhether the person is just trying to get attention or whether they actually have distorted thoughts to the point where it's a disorder and they feel powerless to change or fight the compulsion. Do you also think OCD is a choice/sin? because eating disorders are actually pretty much the same thing except more physically deadly...

    here's some food for thought: http://dashhouse.com/dashhouse/2013/2/4/christianity-and-eating-disorders#commentsWrapper

  8. Hi Anon,

    I agree with you regarding illnesses and contributing factors; I also agree that there are contributing factors to the development of eating disorders (ie behavior modeled during upbringing; peer pressure; advertising; etc.) And I certainly agree that no one wakes up consciously choosing an ED (and all that goes with it) - it is far more gradual and insidious than that.

    However, I disagree with applying the term "mental health" to eating disorders, or categorizing the behavior as an "illness". The fact remains that neither anorexia, bulimia, or over-eating has an organic cause. Eating disorders do not start as behaviors - rather, ALL behavior starts in the mind...with thinking patterns which are out of alignment with God's Word. The article you linked to was good - the writer correctly distinguished that her anorexia was NOT due to a lack of faith (I agonized with this myself for many years -- don't forget that I was anorexic and bulimic for 17 years myself), but her faith stopped short of her being able to "renew [her] mind with the washing of the Word". She would likely have benefited from biblical counseling, as it certainly sounded from her testimony as if she wanted to forsake the behavior.

    Read today's entry on replacing lies we believe with the truth to get a better idea of what it means to "renew the mind" (taking thoughts captive to make them obedient to Christ.) I am not saying that choosing to repent of the eating disorder is easy or automatic, but it certainly is possible in Christ.


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