The Influence of Parental Pressure in Developing Eating Disorders

Confronting personal sin head-on is messy. Especially in the case of life-dominating sins, such as eating disorders and other addictive behaviors. We sin; we're sinned against...the two ways we are each, personally, affected by evil.

Biblical counselors (and indeed all Christians in the pursuit of holiness) know that to blame another person for one's own sin is a cop-out. And yet....if we are honest, and if we are to be compassionate counselors, we cannot dismiss the role of poor parental modeling (or outright abuse) in catalyzing unbiblical thinking....and setting a child up for an eating disorder. To refuse to acknowledge the damage done by parents (mothers, in particular, in the case of anorexia and bulimia) is unhelpful to counselees. A better approach is to pin-point what exactly was said, and counter it with Scripture. (For example, my mother's chronic threat, "You're never going to have a boyfriend if you don't slim down, because boys don't date fat girls" might have been challenged by the description of true beauty given in 1 Peter, or the description of an ideal woman given - by a queen to her son - in Proverbs 31).

The following article deals with just such a scenario. The mother in this story clearly has disordered eating habits and needs to renew her own mind; she is unwittingly setting her own daughter up for an eating disorder and, potentially, years of misery. Counselors, read it and take heed: it is very, VERY difficult to undo years of this kind of childhood conditioning...even with the Bible and the Holy Spirit on our side.

Vogue article by mom about 7-year-old daughter’s weight sparks heavy backlash

An article by a woman who is "fighting" her 7-year-old daughter's "childhood obesity" at home--published in the April issue of Vogue--is causing a big backlash online among readers critical of the magazine and its author.

Dara-Lynn Weiss, the author, wrote about her response to a pediatrician who suggested that her daughter, Bea, should be put on a diet because--at 4'4" and 93 pounds--she was clinically obese and could be at risk for high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.

It wasn't the diagnosis that readers railed against, but Weiss' management of Bea's subsequent year-long diet.

"Sometimes Bea's after-school snack was a slice of pizza or a gyro from the snack vendor," Weiss wrote. "Other days I forced her to choose a low fat vegetable soup or a single hard-boiled egg. Occasionally I'd give in to her pleas for a square of coffee cake, mainly because I wanted to eat half of it. When she was given access to cupcakes at a party, I alternated between saying, 'Let's not eat that, it's not good for you'; 'Okay, fine, go ahead, but just one'; and 'Bea, you have to stop eating crap like that, you're getting too heavy,' depending on my mood. Then I'd secretly eat two when she wasn't looking."

Weiss continued:

I once reproachfully deprived Bea of her dinner after learning that her observation of French Heritage Day at school involved nearly 800 calories of Brie, filet mignon, baguette, and chocolate. I stopped letting her enjoy Pizza Fridays when she admitted to adding a corn salad as a side dish one week. I dressed down a Starbucks barista when he professed ignorance of the nutrition content of the kids' hot chocolate whose calories are listed as "120-210" on the menu board: Well, which is it? When he couldn't provide an answer, I dramatically grabbed the drink out of my daughter's hands, poured it into the garbage, and stormed out.

After Bea lost 16 pounds--meeting her mom's weight-loss goal for her before a Vogue photoshoot--Weiss wrote about her daughter's reaction:

"That's still me," she says of her former self. "I'm not a different person just because I lost sixteen pounds." I protest that indeed she is different. At this moment, that fat girl is a thing of the past. A tear rolls down her beautiful cheek, past the glued-in feather. "Just because it's in the past," she says, "doesn't mean it didn't happen."

"I have not ingested any food, looked at a restaurant menu, or been sick to the point of vomiting without silently launching a complicated mental algorithm about how it will affect my weight," Weiss admitted. "Who was I to teach a little girl how to maintain a healthy weight and body image?"

"The socialites who write personal essays for Vogue aren't known for their kindness and humility," Katie Baker wrote on Jezebel.com. But Weiss "has to go down in history as the one of the most f---ed up, selfish women to ever grace the magazine's pages."

Weiss "comes across as obsessive and the fact that she made such an issue of her daughter's weight, both in public and in Vogue—seems wrong," Dhani Mau wrote on Fashionista.com.

An anonymous blogger for New York magazine added: "I'm pretty sure Weiss just handed her daughter the road map to all her future eating disorders."


"Self Esteem": The Enemy of Your Soul

The Gospel Coalition just published a superb, biblical critique of why the LAST thing we flawed human beings need is more "self esteem". Long identified as the culprit behind eating disorders, self esteem is actually the self-love and self-centered mindset the Bible cautions us against. Invariably, it will lead us into sin - including self-obsessed life-dominating sins such as anorexia and bulimia.

Ronnie Martin's article, "The Beauty of Low Self-Esteem", is here:

"I'm just going to say it: I love me. Go ahead and say it to yourself a few times. I love me. I don't know how it will make you feel, but I can guarantee that it won't make you a liar. Look in the mirror. Not bad, huh? No? Well, whether you love or hate what you see, chances are you'll keep on looking.

None of us has a problem with low self-esteem. Scripture tells us we were born with the opposite issue. We all think of ourselves as a little more pretty, a little more talented, a little more worthy, and a little more deserving of just about everything in this life. Far from having naturally broken hearts, our hearts are naturally bloated with the calories of self-consumption and filled with obscene levels of self-obsession. We've been taught that there's nothing more valuable than how much we value ourselves. Sometimes we like to doll it up with introspective words like self-realization or self-fulfillment, but it's all the same thing: egos the size of Kanye West performing with Jay Z on top of the Empire State Building. Yes, our esteem is that extreme.

Depths of Our Souls

The frightening thing about self esteem is the staggering lengths God goes to completely eradicate it from the depths of our souls, in order to produce depth in our souls. If the Lord loves a humble and contrite heart, it means that he equally abhors a prideful and defiant one. One of the prevailing themes of the Bible is how God makes nothing out of men by flipping the object of their esteem from themselves back to him. These stories play out like dark, epic, cinematic tragedies. We all hope our story doesn't.

In Moses we see a rich, short-tempered prep school kid who got embroiled in a racial murder scandal. Fleeing the scene into exile and obscurity, he gets a blue-collar gig tending sheep for 40 years. God eventually steps back into the picture and assigns him the CEO position of the world's largest relocation project. What he doesn't tell him is that the relocation's going to take another 40-plus years and that he's going to die right before the final move-in date. God spent a lot of years breaking down Moses. His whole life, actually.

Then there's Joseph, a spoiled, insensitive trust-fund baby, coddled by his Daddy until his brothers have finally had enough of his insufferable bragging and throw him in a hole while they discuss how to do away with him. They end up selling him into slavery instead, because you could do that back then. He lands a manager position for good behavior until he gets framed on rape charges. Dude ends up back in jail until a VP gig for the nation of Egypt opens up, and through some heartbreaking circumstances, he lands the job. God broke Joseph down during the prime years of his young adult life.

You see where I'm going here. God takes sometimes horrific, drastic measures to destroy our self-esteem. We're not told much about the personal pain Moses and Joseph experienced. We're not told of the sleepless nights spent in isolation, gripped by emotional despondency while grasping hopelessly in the dark, trying to fathom why God was doing this and whether he was even there. In hindsight, we tend to view these figures as emboldened, courageous, pillars of the faith, but it's foolishness to think that their responses were any less weak and human than ours would be. But we see a God that uses very human experiences to change the hearts of human vessels. And it hurts.

Call to Brokenness

The call to brokenness is a call to openness. It's an altered vision. It doesn't mean that our lives enter into a continuous state of disrepair so that God can use what "working" functions we have left for his glory. Brokenness is the gentrification of our hearts. It means that the heart we had was condemned and the only way for God to make it fit for use was to demolish it and rebuild it from the ground up. Same body, new heart. The reason it hurts so bad is that we all love our old hearts. We love the familiar pulse and well-worn rhythm that our old hearts provided for us. They filled us with adrenaline, pumping the blood of self-indulgence through our veins . . . until we remember that they didn't at all. We remember that they shut us into the cells of our own self-belief, closing us off from the liberation of godly self-denial.

The beauty of low self-esteem is that we finally have the hearts to highly esteem God. It's not that we all turn into Debbie Downers and drench ourselves in self-loathing and self-pity. No, there's no time for that when our eyes are fixed firmly on our Lord.

"You have said, 'Seek my face.' My heart says to you, 'Your face, Lord, do I seek' (Psalm 27:8).

Help us, O Lord, to see only you."

Ronnie Martin is a writer, speaker, recording artist, and worship leader at Ashland (OH) Grace Brethren Church. He also co-hosts The Reformatory, a radio talk show with Ted Kluck. He blogs here: http://ronniemartin.tumblr.com/


Article in My Local Paper About my Book and Biblical Counseling

Last week, I was interviewed by a local journalist about my book, "Redeemed from the Pit" and what we biblical counselors believe. I am happy to say that, with the minor exception of changing "life-dominating sin" to "life-dominating force" (3rd paragraph from bottom), the reporter did an excellent job overall at representing what we biblical counselors believe and relaying what I actually said. (Keep in mind this is a secular newspaper). The biographical information was taken largely from the 700 Club interview -- the important part of the article is the second half.

Currently my book is out of stock on Amazon as the publisher is switching warehouses, but if you wish to purchase "Redeemed from the Pit" please contact either myself directly at marie4thtimemom@yahoo.com, or contact the publisher at www.calvarypress.com.

The text of the article is as follows:

"Addiction is often spoken of as a lifelong battle, but for Marie Notcheva, it is a battle that she has already won. She has written about overcoming bulimia in her recently published book,
“Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders,” published in December by Calvary Press Publishing.

Marie explains the title is a reference to Psalm 40, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit …”

Marie’s eating disorder had its roots early in her childhood. She now offers counseling so others can overcome the grasp anorexia and bulimia have on them. When Marie was just 4 years old, her mother began to tease her about her weight, pointing out the rounded belly that’s typical of small children. “That’s disgusting!” her mother said. It was an attitude that lasted throughout Marie’s school years. Her family continued to emphasize the importance of being slim over the need for a healthy diet.

A member of her high school gymnastics team, Marie carried 130 pounds on her 5-foot, 5-inch frame - not overweight according to any chart. Yet, her coach launched a weight loss competition between Marie and another team member. Even if her life looked full from the outside, one theme dominated Marie’s days. It was counting calories and thinking about food. Attempting to live on almost nothing, Marie slid into bulimia, where she would binge on food and then purge herself of the unwanted calories.

“I started using it as a way to control my weight when I was 15,” she says. “My weight became my idol.” It’s an apt description that anyone who anxiously steps on a scale several times a day will recognize. If Marie’s weight was her idol, bulimia was its ritual worship. “There was an endorphin rush, knowing I could eat and get rid of it. It was addictive. Once I got started, it was a safety latch that I could go back to,” she said.

Even in high school, Marie knew that the bulimia had to stop. She was suffering health effects on her teeth, and no longer had periods. By senior year, she weighed a scant 85 pounds. After high school, Marie enrolled a Syracuse University to study journalism. She managed to boost her weight to 110 pounds, “just enough to keep me out of the hospital,” she said.

She moved to Bulgaria after graduation, working as a writer for four years. She met Ivaylo Notchev. They have been married for 17 years and have four children. Today, in addition to being a wife, mom, and freelance journalist, Marie is a Biblical counselor at the non-denominational Heritage Bible Chapel in Princeton. She counsels women struggling with eating disorders, and other problems, using Bible study as a guide to healing.

Medical models claim that addiction is a disease, where recovery is an ongoing process, she says, but Biblical counselors take a different approach. “Eating disorders, like other addictions, are not organic diseases. Rather, they’re learned behaviors that by God’s grace can be unlearned,” she explains. “The addiction has become a life dominating force. We consult the Scripture to break the addict’s thought patterns, to renew their minds with God’s word, allowing the Holy Spirit to come in and change their heart.”

Bible-based counseling rejects the secular therapist’s view of man, she said. “The Bible addresses in principal any problem we have. It is not psychology, not psychotherapy, but the work of God that is sufficient,” she said.

Many women have written to Marie saying her book has helped them greatly. “It’s important to understand the grace and restoration aspect. That is what gives people hope and joy,” she said.
“Redeemed from the Pit of Bulimia” is available at Amazon.com."