Counseling Anorexic Girls - From NANC 2011

Last month, I attended the NANC Conference in Walnut Creek, California, at which Martha Peace taught an excellent workshop entitled "Counseling as if a Life Depended on It: Counselees with Anorexia". In her lecture, Martha highlighted the need for a physician's involvement because of the medically fragile condition of the anorexic; the reality of both a spiritual (eternal soul-threatening) emergency and the physical one; and how family members may be involved in a helpful way.

Any woman repenting from an eating disorder needs help from those closest to her. As God transforms her mind and thinking, it is necessary for family members (mothers especially) to know how to give the right kind of "support" and reinforce biblical attitudes (and right behaviors). Martha demonstrated how an anorexic counselee would be instructed to keep a "self-talk" log, contrasting sinful, obsessive and self-oriented thoughts with biblical replacements which focus on loving God and others. For example, an eating-disordered girl will typically fret, "Everyone is watching me! Why can't they leave me alone?!" The "put-on" thought to replace this might be, "Everyone is not watching me, and those that are, love me very much. I don't blame them for being worried."

Naturally, mealtimes are very tension-fraught in households where someone is battling an eating disorder. One question Martha often fields from concerned mothers is, "What should we do if our daughter just sits and stares at her food?" Discomfort often leads parents to excuse, ignore, or over-react (crying; begging) to their daughters' willful starvation. Instead, Martha counsels parents to remain calm, speak to her very calmly and give her hope. They might express something along the lines of, "I know this is very hard for you but the Lord will help you, and I want you to pick up your fork and take a bite of potatoes. Ask the Lord to help you. We are going to pray for you right now and then we are going to continue to eat our meal." Then, she counsels, turn the focus of dinner conversation to something else - the matter has been dealt with compassionately, biblically, and lovingly - but without dwelling on it or focusing excessive attention on the young woman or her battle.

While Martha made many good points and gave helpful advice on giving homework, making agendas and how to approach the Gospel with the counselee, I particularly liked this discussion of parental involvement and thought it was especially practical. An eating disorder, like any other type of addiction (life-dominating sin), affects every member of the family. I especially like her suggestion of praying and bringing God into what is so clearly a spiritual battle - right there at the dinner table. Having "fought" this lonely battle privately for years, I can tell you that having a compassionate, godly parent offering hope during the scariest moment would have made a world of difference. A loving family praying over a frightened young woman as she faces her fear is far more effective than "talk therapy" and secular "coping strategies". The Bible has much to say about dealing with fear, and the fact that God is FOR us and not against. Reinforcing these truths is the best "support" a young woman could receive.


  1. Excellent points! I love the practicality of Martha's suggestion. Thank you for ministering to ladies using truth and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

  2. Is there a way to get Martha's talk on cd?

  3. Yes Marcia - Sound Word Associates does ALL of NANC's video and sound recordings. You can contact them at:
    Sound Word Associates
    P.O. Box 2036
    Chesterton, IN 46304
    (219) 548-0933 www.soundword.com
    You want to order CD of workshop N1147, "Counseling As If a Life Depended on It: Counselees with Anorexia". The CDs are $8.00 each, plus $3 shipping. (And if I may...my 317-page book is available on Amazon.com for $21.99!) :) A little self-advert there. ;)

  4. What a great photographer you had! I'm still going back to all that we learned at NANC...it was so great to be there and meet you and be soaking in all of God's truths. I'm downloading and going back to my notes and sharing the messages. I highly recommend every believer should go to a NANC conference. So neat to hear the great support you've gotten from your pastor & elders. What a blessing. So exciting to see how God uses everything in our lives for His Glory.

  5. This is great and the absolute truth.
    I had an eating disorder, and was only saved through the power of the Holy Spirit. Doctors couldn't help me. Family couldn't help me. Concerned friends couldn't help me. The truth of the Lord pulled me through. Even though there's still a battle of sorts daily, God is the GOd of all comfort.
    All the best in your future endeavors and keep up the great work! :-)


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