Beyond Freedom from Food Addiction – Living for the Glory of God (Part 2 of 3)

Barb Winters, blogger of "Food: Lies We Believe and Truth that Sets Us Free" published Part II of my 3-part article on moving beyond simply food addiction into a life lived with the glory of God at the center. (See Part I below this entry). Next week, in the conclusion, we'll focus on the solution and how to renew our minds with the Word.

What Hinders You?

If you struggle with over-eating, preoccupation with your weight and/or food, or a tendency to use food for emotional reasons, you probably realize very well that this is outside of God’s will for your life. You may even recognize that you are engaged in a spiritual battle (Eph. 6:12). You’ve read passages warning believers not to be “mastered by anything” but rather to “be self-controlled and alert” (1 Cor. 6:12; 1 Peter 5:8). And yet, as common as “food abuse” is, in the day-to-day we tend to think of it as a “common vice.” Unlike full-blown eating disorders, which are so clearly problematic that psychiatrists consider anorexia and bulimia “mental illnesses,” binge eating, emotional eating, and habitual eating fall under what author Jerry Bridges would term “respectable sins” because they are so prevalent in our society. This helps us rationalize these behaviors when temptation hits.

Is this your mindset? If so, know that you are not alone. It may help you to know that if you are bingeing or just eating out of habit, it is not a physical hunger you are trying to fill. Trying to “fill the void” with food is futile, so allow God to show you what it is you are seeking when you turn to it for satisfaction instead of to Him. Unless you see this temptation as a spiritual battle, you will not be prepared to fight it with the “shield of faith” and the “sword of the Spirit” (God’s Word).

Another hindrance to overcoming unhealthy eating habits is shame. Winston Smith, a CCEF counselor, recently wrote an excellent article on how shame over our sin keeps Christians from turning to the Cross – the very place we need to go! He writes,
“I’m sure Peter, like most of us, would rather figure out some way of cleaning himself. At least part of us would find prideful satisfaction in being able to take care of our own mess. But another sizeable part would like to avoid having another, especially Jesus, see our filth. And the thought of Jesus having to touch it . . . well, that makes us just want to say no.”
There is something about mis-using food that makes us want to run and hide. Among eating disordered patients, anorexia is “the goal” they all want to attain. No one aspires to be bulimic. Why? We see it as more “shameful” – bulimia, like binge eating, represents a loss of self-control. And it is shameful – as is all other sin. When we believe the lie that one sin is more abhorrent to God than another, we deceive ourselves that we are not worthy of His grace (no one is, but He grants it because He is gracious). Hiding in the shadows not only delays and complicates repentance, it is an affront to God’s character. We dishonor Him when we ignore or doubt His mercy, which is new every morning (Lam. 3:23).

Whatever the depth of your struggle, there is grace when you fail. God is waiting for you to get up, seek Him, and continue walking with Him by faith. You may think you are a disappointment to God, but think about it: He is omniscient. He already knew you were going to do “that”, and has already dealt with your sin. The way out is to accept grace, and keep “pressing on.”


Beyond Freedom from Food Addiction - Living for the Glory of God (Part 1 of 3)

I blogged the following series for Barb Winters last week, and she posted Part 1 over at her blog, "Food Lies We Believe and the Truth that Sets us Free" a few days ago. (Link to Part 1 is here). Here is the introductory entry, on having the right goal and priority in our hearts as we turn away from addiction:

Beyond Freedom from Food Addiction – Living for the Glory of God (Part 1 of 3)

In December 2003, God impressed the words “Live up to what you’ve already attained!” (Philippians 3:16) very strongly on my heart. At the time, He was granting me repentance from a long-standing eating disorder, and, as any Christian stuck in life-dominating sin would be, I was thoroughly miserable. That misery began to change to hope as I pondered the implication of that verse: what have I already attained? In context, Paul is talking about the believer’s secure position by knowing Christ. Since we are free from the Law, he reasons, we have now only to “press on to take hold of” what Christ has already attained for us: the “righteousness that comes from God” (v. 9). Although I had been a Christian for 13 years, I now began pondering what my position in Christ actually meant, practically speaking. Although I was not acting “righteous”, slowly I began to see that because of my union with Him, I was not, in reality, a slave to sin. My salvation already secured, God had declared me a member of His family and a co-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17). Now, He was encouraging me to act like it. Live up to what you already are, I told myself, because of Christ. He made it possible.

One of the lies we are prone to believe, whether we struggle with “food addiction” or another sin, is that we cannot change. The habit has enslaved us, we believe; it is impossible to change on our own. (And indeed it is, apart from the Holy Spirit). It becomes all too easy to forget that we are no longer slaves to sin, and that God calls and equips us to become in practice what we already are in standing before Him.

Let’s examine our true purpose in life; some obstacles as we strive to overcome our love-hate relationship with food; and finally, how to deal with these snares biblically.

What Is Your Goal?

Recently, an old friend of mine stated that Weight Watchers is helping her with her life goal: changing her relationship with food. This is a worthy endeavor, and we know that we need to restore food to its appropriate, life-giving place in our lives. For those of us who are in Christ, however, this must never be our primary goal. Our purpose in life is to love, worship and bring glory to God. Three times in the book of Ephesians, Paul exhorted us to “live to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). Whenever another all-consuming purpose takes center stage in our hearts, (even if it’s a good thing), it’s called an “idol.”

I have seen this reversal of priorities repeatedly when counseling eating disordered women. During the years I was enslaved to bulimia, I was guilty of it myself. I desperately wanted to be free of the food-obsession that plagued my every waking moment, and devised countless tactics and diets in attempt to stave off the behavior. At the same time, however, I was terrified of gaining weight. Overcoming bulimia, without gaining weight, had become my idol. My “practical theology” was messed up – fitting into size 2 jeans was more important to me than my relationship with Christ. Needless to say, my “relationship with food” never changed – because my focus was misplaced.

We need to fix our eyes on Jesus, the “author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). When we do that, He brings the conviction and encouragement needed to re-order every area of our lives, including unhealthy eating patterns. Does your happiness and joy in Christ depend on how much you weigh? If so, you are focusing on the wrong “relationship.” If pleasing and honoring God is our goal (rather than losing weight or thinking less about food), we find ourselves less tempted to use the food as a counterfeit comfort and we experience victory in this area (however gradually it may come). When counseling bulimic women, I notice many of them want to keep a food journal. I discourage this practice, as I don’t feel it is helpful and puts too much attention on the food itself (although for anorexic patients, a record of food intake may be necessary for nutritionists or physicians). My counsel (and experience) is that spending that time in the Word of God or a Bible study is far more helpful than keeping a food journal. Our gaze needs to be directed upward to the Cross, rather than inward on self.

In Christian weight loss circles or recovery groups, much is made of the reference to eating and drinking in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” However, to fixate solely on those two activities and to build a “program” around them is to miss Paul’s point. The emphasis is on “whatever” you do – it should all be done with the end goal of glorifying God (making His Name known and exalting Him by living in joyful obedience). Fixing individual areas of our life that give us problems must never be our primary goal. Living a life that is pleasing to God, out of sheer gratitude for the grace He has lavished on us, should be our desire.

Marie Notcheva is a Christian author from Massachusetts, who is working towards certification as a biblical counselor. Her book, "Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage or Eating Disorders" will be published by Calvary Press later this year. Her work has appeared in The Guardian Modern Reformation, Baystate Parent, and several other publications. She blogs at http://redeemedfromthepit.blogspot.com//.


Testimony of a Beautiful, Broken and Yearning Soul

Today, I'd like to share with you a beautifully written, autobiographical account from a high school student. A gifted writer, "Jennifer" (not her real name) has been a Christian since childhood. I have corresponded with her for some time, and she loves the Lord Jesus Christ with all her heart and soul. Jennifer is also blessed to be a part of a Gospel-preaching church with a network of friends and family who are strong believers.

Jennifer also struggles with bulimia. With an insight I wish I'd had at her age (my eating disorder started when I was 15, long before I knew the Lord,) she writes powerfully and reveals the raw, painful struggle that continues to battle within her, even though she belongs to Christ.

With her permission, I am sharing her story here as it is a very poignant and true-to-life glimpse into the temptation and snare of an eating disorder. We are all familiar with Paul's lament in Romans 7:15 "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do," as well as the rest of the chapter, dealing with the hatred (yet battle) of sin that sometimes grips every believer. No one knows better than a bulimic that the moment we turn to Christ, while all of our sin is forgiven, in practice it does not vanish overnight. As I wrote to Jennifer, "Even though we are regenerate (have been given a new spirit) at the moment of conversion, not everything immediately becomes blue skies and fluffy clouds!"

I hope her essay blesses and encourages you:
20 March 2011
There has been only one significant event during my lifetime within my memory frame, and that is because it has taken over my life and mind since three years ago when it first began. On and off since February 18, 2008, I have been bound by chains. My journey through this world thus far has already proved painful, exhausting, and captive - but most of all, blessed.

I am not going to give you a sob story, because I have none. I have never experienced what the law constitutes as abuse in any way. My parents are still alive. We have an average amount of money and have never been significantly lacking. I got picked on sporadically in elementary school, but nothing I would ever refer to as bullying. I’ve had injuries and health problems here and there, but never anything too serious. My only explanation is this: sin tears apart lives.

To start off, I have always hated myself. That has been my natural mentality since I was a preschooler. No matter how many people tell me how loved I am, how many times I ruminate and reflect on myself and point out my positive attributes, or how many truths I find in God’s word, I have never been able to get past this belief. It has by far been the most misleading and detrimental part of my life.

Fast forward to seventh grade. Depression. Confusion. A strong sense of feeling trapped with seemingly no cause. I am an innocent twelve year old girl attending Springhouse Middle School. I am a Christian. My parents are divorced, but it’s been that way since I was three. My mom is getting remarried, but I’ve wanted her to do so for years. I have the occasional fights with my dad, but that can only be expected at this age. I have friends and a social life. I am an avid athlete. Nothing wrong here.

So why would this girl living this life rapidly and suddenly develop an eating disorder?

To be honest, I don’t know. The media? I doubt it. Bad body image? Sure. Chemical imbalances? Probably. “Personal strangeness,” as Marya Hornbacher says? I wouldn’t be surprised. Trust issues? Of course. A desire to be in control, a splitting of the mind? Definitely. Without a single doubt in my mind I know it is some sort of a spiritual problem. But that’s about all I can say. I don’t think these kinds of things can ever be fully explained.

Secrets. Lies. Despair. I need to be heard. I need to be wanted. I need to be hugged.
I lay sleepless. Tossing. Head pounding. Fingers swollen, throat puffed up like a bullfrog. The light flipped off, the dark and the racing thoughts flooded in. The fears. The prayers. (Marya Hornbacher, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia)
I’ll spare the details for now, but three years ago I began violently destructing my body. It wasn’t long before I was forced to reveal my struggles to my parents and enter treatment. I was there for three months, made some progress, and surrendered to God’s will over a year later. At the time, I thought I was promising never to act on that particular sin again. How unrealistic and naive a promise that was.

It was not until many months later that I learned the true meaning of surrender – to give my entire life to God, and to trust Him with it. To show God that I love Him more than anything in this world and that I want to live my life completely for Him, but that I recognize that I will fail, and will not carry out my wishes to the full extent... yet I also know that I am completely covered with the blood of Jesus Christ, and there is power in His blood (Following me?).

That, too, though, is a hard act to follow. I dug into His word. I prayed without ceasing. I made awesome friends and did awesome things. I felt peace and transformation for the first time in my life. But my predictions were correct. I was about an inch away from complete freedom before I sprinted a mile backwards. Crashed and burned. Relapsed.

One may ask once more, why? Again, I’m not quite sure. I was stressed. I had a tremendous amount of pressure on me. I was scared. So I destroyed God’s temple. I know, there is a gap between the cause and effect. I’m still in the process of bridging it.

But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned to a pillar of salt. So it goes. People aren’t supposed to look back. I’m certainly not going to do it anymore. (Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five)
So today I am telling a story that is not yet over. I am back in treatment again and struggling with this daily. If you want to call me messed up, go ahead. If you think I’m beautiful, you can say that too. Both are accurate. I’m a beautiful mess, perhaps. Sweetly broken, wholly surrendered.

A year’s worth of tears is flowing down my cheeks because I am finally feeling my emotions. I am looking people in the eyes and loving them for who God made them to be. I am beginning to observe the world around me and take it for what it is. I receive a long and comforting hug from Alyssa Romisher in the dining room of the Renfrew Center after once again struggling to finish my meal, failing, and being asked to drink two Ensure supplements. “I know you’re trying really hard, and I’m proud of you. It will get easier; I promise. I love you.”

It is worth it. It’s a fight. It’s exhausting, but it is a fight I believe in. I cannot believe, anymore, in the fight between body and soul. If I do it will kill me. If I do, I will have taken the easy way out. I know for a fact sickness is easier. But health is more interesting. (Marya Hornbacher, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, p. 280)
And I am so humbled.
No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married. (Isaiah 62:4)


Top 10 Myths About Eating Disorders - Courtesy of Radiology Technician Schools

This morning, Christine Seivers, the content manager for Radiology Technician Schools blog, contacted me with an excellent article about eating disorders her site had published. I find it to be well-written and informative, and so at her request I am happy to share it with you. Do check out the original article here, which also contains an embedded video, "How Can Bulimia Make Someone Gain Weight?"

As this article comes from the medical community and not the biblical counseling world, take careful note of the fact it cites the disproven theory that eating disorders are genetic (more to come this week on the 'chemical imbalance' hypothesis rejected by physicians).

Here is the article:

"Eating disorders are becoming increasingly common in Western societies. Despite educators' efforts to create greater awareness of anorexia and bulimia, there still remains a great deal of misunderstanding and misinformation surrounding the facts and consequences of the disorders. In order to get to the root of the problem, more people need to recognize the symptoms, victims, and treatments. That involves dispelling false notions and pervasive societal myths.

1.Eating Disorders Are Limited to Women: Although eating disorders are most prevalent in women, men are in no way immune to them. Men, one million of them in 2005, relentlessly tried to perfect their body image by excessively working out, eating less, or even throwing up their food after a large meal. According to The Wall Street Journal, many men are no longer acting as caretakers in a relationship — a greater number of women than men are excelling in both university education and the work force. With higher salaries and higher education, many women no longer find themselves financially dependent on men. In fact, they are often earning more than their male counterparts. Sometimes men try to compensate for this role reversal by perfecting their bodies. A muscular, slim man can definitely symbolize dominance and overall strength.

2.People with Eating Disorders Always Look Underweight: As described by Womenshealth.gov, an online resource provided by the US Department of Health and Human Services, many bulimics are normal weight. In fact, some may even look chubby or a bit overweight. In addition to bulimics, those men and women that exercise excessively and count every single calorie may not look emaciated. The media often only shows the most extreme cases of anorexia nervosa in television and movies. There are some signs that you can look for in bulimics, such as: swollen cheeks, overtly clear teeth, and broken blood vessels in the eyes. However, these symptoms are not always obvious.

3. Hollywood and Vogue are Responsible for Eating Disorders: True: Constant exposure to images of overtly thin supermodels and actors can affect how we view our own bodies. False: These images are the leading cause of eating disorders. This is a common misconception. Parents often blame skinny celebrities for inspiring anorexia or bulimia; however, there are many other factors that contribute to eating disorders. Many women and men starve themselves or purge after eating as a result of psychological disorders, including (but not limited to): Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Multiple Personality Disorder, Depression, and Bipolar Disorder.

4. Eating Disorders Are Hereditary: Currently, scientists are actively trying to find out if eating disorders have genetic causes. Although they have found some correlations, correlation does not imply causation. Eating disorders do not necessarily have to be genetically predetermined. Your environment can affect your eating habits and self-image as well. For example, perhaps your mom is obsessed with being unnaturally thin. It may not pass on to you genetically, but it could pass on to you because of your constant exposure to her ideas and unreal image. At the same time, don't assume that just because your sister is bulimic or anorexic, you will be too. There could be a variety of contributing factors to her disorder!

5. Dieting Will Lead to Anorexia: Many people believe dieting is a gateway habit to future anorexia or bulimia. However, eating disorders are NOT just related to concerns about eating healthy or losing a few pounds. These disorders stem from an extreme obsession with losing weight. If your mind is consistently counting calories (all day long), that would be symptomatic of anorexia. Other symptoms include lying about your food intake and constantly feeling overweight (even though you are not). If dieting always lead to anorexia, we would have many more people with eating disorders. You should not let your weight and eating habits consume you, but still be health conscious about your food intake. Moderation is essential to leading a healthy lifestyle.

6. People with Eating Disorders Do Not Eat: Although people with anorexia may not eat very much, they usually do consume at least a small amount of food during the day. Otherwise, they would appear to be emaciated at a much quicker pace. Adolescents who suffer from anorexia may just eat one really small meal in front of others. Or, anorexics may also be bulimic. They may try to please friends and family members by eating large quantities at dinner or lunch. Afterward, in order to get rid of calories, they may make themselves vomit.

7. Bulimics Only Vomit to Get Rid of Extra Calories: Many parents and friends are unaware of another common tactic bulimics use to lose weight: Laxatives. Taking laxative pills help people lose weight initially.They usually get rid of water weight. However, consistent use of these diuretics can lead to a dangerous addiction. Constant abuse leaves users feeling extremely fat and bloated every time they eat. As soon as they finish eating, they have to take pills to get rid of their meal. Celebrities like Janet Jackson have admitted to abusing these pills. This can lead to extreme dehydration and internal bleeding.

8. Bulimics Purge Everything They Eat: Because vomiting after eating only gets rid of 50% of the calories, bulimics often gain weight from their destructive cycles of purging. In fact, many bulimics who use laxatives only get rid of ten percent of their calorie intake. Those that suffer from this eating disorder believe they are getting rid of everything when they purge. They often overeat during meal times, usually 5 to 6 times more than their normal intake. Furthermore, as the video demonstrates, when your body gets used to purging, you will only lose about twenty to thirty percent of your calorie intake.

9. People Cannot die from Bulimia: Although there are many unfortunate media stories describing deaths from anorexia nervosa, there is little information about deaths from bulimia. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, a person with bulimia can be at high risk for sudden death. Purging can be extremely destructive on the heart. It can also cause electrolyte imbalances. The New York Times article reports that bulimia can definitely result in death. Fortunately, Melissa Avrin's mom is adding to the short list of movies focusing on bulimia.

10. Eating Disorders Start at Adolescence: Eating disorders are becoming increasingly prevalent in children. As in adult eating disorders, similar factors can contribute to the same disorders in children. These factors can be environmental, psychological, and/or biological. Mothers seem to have a huge impact on young girls with eating disorders. The Agras, Hammar, and McNicolas study demonstrates that mothers with eating disorders interact differently with their children than mothers without them. Early on, they are less likely to feed their children (a normal amount) during early development stages."

Linkback: http://radiologytechnicianschools.net/10-most-pervasive-myths-about-eating-disorders/


"What About People on Meds?"

Dear Readers,

Recently, a friend of mine from church e-mailed me the following question:

Hey Marie,

I was wondering if in your NANC training you ever get to the point when you have to encourage someone to stop taking drugs. How do you do that? I know it is probably a long answer but I would love to know!
I thought it was a good question, and quite possibly one which some of you readers are wondering about, as well, so I am posting my entire answer to her below. Anti-depressant medications are routinely prescribed in the treatment of eating disorders, so this is an ethical question related to my ministry. Since writing this reply, I've gotten much deeper into my current course of "Medical Issues in Counseling" and find that I've portrayed the position accurately.

My response:

"Well, first I should clarify that I am not under NANC, but rather INS (Institute for Nouthetic Studies). It's the same exact position, theology & theory, though...but the difference is if you want to get the NANC certification (after completing the INS' 185 hours of coursework), you still have to then take the NANC exam and do your 50 hours of supervised counseling under your local church. I would expect that question then becomes a big one, because so many peeps are on so many meds. (Interestingly, my next course, which should arrive any day now, is Medical Issues - and I am SURE that question will be covered in much more depth!)

From what I understand, a NANC counselor does not/cannot advise a counselee to stop taking her physician prescribed meds. They have to qualify counsel with "I am not a physician", and if you think about it, it would be a HUGE liability risk to come out and tell a counselee to stop taking them. Some actions are described as "painting a big bulls-eye on the door of the church" (lawsuits). Also, as you know yourself, going off psychotropics and SSRI meds cold-turkey can be dangerous; the body grows physically dependent on them. I am honestly not sure if a NANC counselor can even encourage the counselee to "wean" herself off of them, and while it's great if they do, that MUST always be done under a doctor's supervision.

Now, that said, suppose a person were asking the NANC counselor hypothetically about the usefullness of drugs for what is assumed to be a "chemical imbalance". Depression is the usual issue....did you know, that after marriage problems, depression is the biggest thing you see in nouthetic counseling? It's also the hardest to counsel - because peeps come in armed to the teeth with "information" they've "learned" about depression. When working on my book, I discovered that now top-flight psychiatrists and researchers are admitting the chemical imbalance theory is unproven. It was a myth all along.

If asked, I imagine a NANC counselor could certainly point these facts out (having the research info right there in front of you doesn't hurt - "The Christian Counselor's Medical Desk Reference" is required reading for my course, and I also recommend Tyler & Grady's "When Sin is Called Sickness"). But making the argument that depresion etc. is not an organic disease (and therefore meds don't work; they ONLY TREAT THE SYMPTOMS) is one thing; telling someone they should stop a Rx they are already on is quite another.

As you know, the "counseling" I do is infomal - generally women seek me out after finding me online. I have never shied away from telling them straight-up that drugs are totally ineffective at treating eating disorders; that's a pretty easy one to prove. If they've contacted me, they've already read at leasts ome of my writing and know where I stand on that issue, anyway. However, what I have found is that (in the case of eating disorders), women prefer to take meds because they want to convince themselves it is still a "disease". If they realize the drugs don't help, on some level they are admitting it's not a physical disease that they have...but a spiritual one (sin). Many Christians just don't want to go there. (Which is probably most of the attacks I've gotten on my blog are from professing Christians -- NOT atheists).

It's a hard thing to face that you are in sin, and as long as you hang on to the meds and the illusion that you are "suffering from a 'mental illness'", you can deny to yourself that bulimia (or whatever) is a sin against a holy God. It takes time for the Holy Spirit to gently lead someone to that realization. Once they get there, though, NOW real change can begin. I have never seen a truly repentant women want to keep on claiming it's a "mental illness" card - so the drugs become a non-issue (although withdrawal may be another story).

So basically, my approach would not be first and foremost to focus on "stopping the drugs". It would be to help the person understand what God's Word says, and what it implies about her behavior (or depression). Once she is open to let God work in her heart and she is renewing her mind, the drugs can be seen for what they are -- a chemical answer to a spiritual solution. Then it's up to her. But to directly tell a counselee she should stop whatever she's on would be dangerous - for the counselor; for the church; and possibly for the counselee. I would not hesitate to advise against STARTING them, though. And from what I've seen just in my work as a medical interpreter, doctors push antidepressants like lemon drops. It's crazy!!! An elderly woman having a melancholy day? "I'm going to recommmend a psych consult...I think you should take something." An immigrant with an unemployed husband and health problems? "I'm going to increase your Celexa dosage." I could go on all day....but the point is, doctors will deliberately put patients on antidepressants to make them dependent; now the healthcare system is getting $$ for the rest of his/her life. (Nearly half of the $$ supporting the pharmecuetical industry is from antidepressants, according to one instructor). So there is a definite agenda there...and while I wouldn't think twice about explaining this to a counselee, you can't overstep your bounds by advising them against what their doctor is doing. Although I don't think a NANC counselor would agree to counsel someone who's also seeing a psychiatrist."