As the mom and dad of three beautiful girls, we know the joys and challenges of parenting daughters. We knew our house would be filled with sparkles, bows, and stuffed animals in the early years. We expected some girl drama and heartbreak along the way. It was no surprise that each has wrestled with faith questions and planning for the future. And, we knew our girls would face threats to their self-worth and a positive body image.
What we didn’t know was how those threats would harm our child. We didn’t know how to face the risk of an eating disorder. Blindsided by a danger we didn’t understand, we felt guilty, confused, and afraid. Today’s guest, Jennifer Lane, offered a lifeline in our moment of crisis. Her listening ear, gentle words of hope, and sharp insight gave the support we needed to find help.
Today, our daughter can celebrate a testimony of healing and strength. During this National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we encourage you to share Jennifer’s words of wisdom with the ones you love. It is our prayer that the daughters, sisters, wives, and friends in your life will find wholeness and joy.
In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I want to explore what parents need to know about eating disorders through the lens of scripture. Having knowledge about the issues kids face is half the battle. This makes me passionate to educate the adults in kids’ lives about eating disorders.
I’m not a parenting expert, but I am thoroughly familiar with eating disorders from both my own personal journey and the many others I’ve had the privilege to walk alongside. (Watch my freedom story here) From my experience, eating disorders are an outward sign of an inner struggle.
Maybe your son or daughter is the victim of bullying, abuse, or trauma. Perhaps she struggles with anxiety, depression, or thoughts of suicide. He may be imploding under the pressure to achieve, succeed, and be perfect in every way. As your child wrestles with these inner struggles, you may notice outer warning signs that indicate an eating disorder:
Behavioral and Emotional Signs
- becoming emotionally distant, withdrawn, or irritable
- extreme moods or obsessive/compulsive behavior
- preoccupation with weight, food, calories, dieting, or eliminating food groups
- refusing to eat, binge eating, overeating
- skipping meals, elaborate food rituals, uncomfortable eating with others
- going to the bathroom after eating, using laxatives, over-exercising
- overly concerned with body size and shape
- hiding weight loss with baggy clothing
- noticeable changes in weight, both up and down
- stomach cramping, loss of menstruation
- fatigue, sleep issues
- dizziness/fainting, feeling cold, dry skin, brittle nails
- cuts/calluses on tops of fingers
- discolored teeth or dental problems
These signs and symptoms can indicate disordered eating that falls into one of four main categories:
Anorexia: This is characterized by extreme weight loss accompanied by an intense fear of gaining weight, food restriction, and poor body image.
Bulimia: This disorder is characterized by cycles of binge eating and compensating behaviors to undo the effects of binge eating, such as purging through self-induced vomiting, laxatives, or compulsive exercise.
Binge Eating Disorder: The most common, it is characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food in a short amount of time with no regular measures to counteract the binge. One feels a loss of control during the binge and shame/guilt afterward.
Orthorexia: This disorder is characterized by an obsession with “proper” or “healthy” eating.
If you recognize some of these signs and symptoms in your situation, your child may be at risk for an eating disorder. Don’t panic! God is bigger. There truly is hope and help for healing.
The words of 1 Peter 5:8-9 give four ways you can face the risk of an eating disorder for your child.
“Be alert and of sober mind.
Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion
looking for someone to devour.
Resist him, standing firm in the faith,
because you know that the family of believers throughout the world
is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
(1 Peter 5:8-9)
Be alert and of sober mind
An “alert and sober mind” has an understanding of eating disorders. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), nearly 30 million Americans will struggle with an eating disorder at some time in their lives. Thousands more suffer without a diagnosis. This is not simply a teenage issue since onset can occur at any age, affecting both young and old.
While body image often plays a role in the development of an eating disorder, deeper mental and emotional issues are often driving the behaviors. Eating disorders are serious, complex medical and mental health issues that need professional treatment to address. Today, educate yourself on the different types of eating disorders and their warning signs and symptoms, because early intervention helps the recovery process. Seek out professional help. NEDA offers valuable resources on their website, here. If your mind is reeling with this new information, be encouraged that recovery is possible and I am living proof!
Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
Scripture says we have a real enemy who is on the hunt, looking for someone to destroy–including our children! As Christians, then, it’s important not to overlook the spiritual component of our struggles.
At the root of an eating disorder is an attack on our child’s identity–their very personhood–attempting to rob them of who God created them to be. In my life, I was turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms instead of the God who loved me. Identifying and dealing with the spiritual aspects of my eating disorder was the final step in my recovery that brought me to lasting freedom.
We need to remember we are victorious in Christ. God has already won the battle, so we don’t have to allow Satan to convince us or our children otherwise.
Resist him, standing firm in the faith.
Satan uses calculated battle strategies in order to deceive, discourage and distract us from our faith in God. No military commander would send his army out into battle unarmed, and the same is true of God in the spiritual realm.
Our first step to “resist him” is to put on the spiritual armor described in Ephesians 6:10-18. Once you have prayed your armor on, go into battle “standing firm in the faith.” Refuse to be intimidated by fear or any of the other flaming arrows Satan aims to make you feel helpless, hopeless, powerless, or defeated by what you’re up against.
As parents, the best way we can do this for our children is through prayer. We can use the powerful, God-given offensive weapon of scripture. When you pray, try:
- Praying scripture out loud, inserting your children’s names into specific verses.
- Praying Bible verses as you walk through your house and your children’s rooms.
- Using scripture as you pray regularly with another believer on behalf of your child.
(Priscilla Shirer’s books Fervent and Armor of God, are excellent resources with tangible ways to fight spiritual battles. They will help you to understand how the enemy attacks and formulate a prayer strategy for your child.)
You know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
The shame and embarrassment I felt over my eating disorder kept me from sharing my struggle with others. It felt safer not to tell, because I feared I would be rejected, judged, or abandoned. I was sure the people in my life would be disappointed if they knew the truth.
Do not fall prey to these lies! God designed us for community, to “bear one another’s burdens.” (Galatians 6:2) I encourage you to seek out a few trusted people from your faith community to walk beside you and your family on your journey. Join a support group in your area or online to connect with other parents who face the same difficulties of parenting a child suffering an eating disorder. Communities offer support, encouragement, comfort, prayer, wisdom, and resources. Even though it may be difficult, I encourage you to be vulnerable and invite people into your struggle.
Dear friend, I know this journey is hard. Yet, there is great hope as you face the risk of an eating disorder for your child. Take heart and remember God’s promises to you:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
Jennifer Smith Lane is the president and co-founder of the Michigan Eating Disorders Alliance, whose mission is to provide education programs to prevent eating disorders. In addition to her non-profit work, she leads an eating and body image ministry to walk alongside women on their recovery journey and empower them to find freedom in Christ. Jennifer lives in Michigan, where she enjoys most her role of mom to her three children.
Jennifer’s new book, Transformed: Eating and Body Image Renewal God’s Way, helps women identify the spiritual issues keeping them stuck in eating and body image issues. This powerful resource studies what Scripture has to say through inductive Bible study, and it teaches how to use spiritual disciplines to turn to God for rescue. Read more at jennifersmithlane.com.