When they find out that I counsel people with eating disorders, many people ask me the same question: “Why don’t they like food?” Or, “I could never imagine throwing up all the time – how awful!” We usually get into a discussion (a good one) and, as they are usually uninformed about eating disorders, I typically tell them that they are not really about food at all, but rather about control. Most people who suffer from eating disorders have issues with control in their lives. They may feel out of control, which means that food is the only thing that they can control. Or, they may find the world around them so chaotic that controlling their food intake is the way in which they can feel that they are in control themselves. In this article, I outline the reality of eating disorders and look at ways to address them.
What Causes Eating Disorders?
Whatever the case may be, eating disorders often run in families. Whether it was the mother or the father who had issues with overeating or undereating, these do appear to be passed down as children model their parents in everything that they do. In addition to the control issue, children and/or teens may develop eating disorders as a response to stress in the home or at school. Some people over-eat when they are stres...
When you’re the parent of a teen who struggles with body image, the saying that “knowledge is power” can be radically true when it comes to getting your teen appropriate help. I talked through the defining features and warning signs of the three most well-known eating disorders: Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge-Eating Disorder. In this post, I want to focus on a body-image disorder that is less talked about, yet incredibly important for parents of teens to be aware of, namely
Body Dysmorphic Disorder or BDD.
What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
BDD is a disorder that often begins in the teen years and is characterized by a preoccupation with a perceived flaw in your body. The key word in that sentence is “perceived,” because people with BDD tend to focus on flaws that are either incredibly minor or completely imperceptible to others. Individuals with BDD may be extremely preoccupied with the shape of their nose, the length of their arms, or the color of their hair. By itself, BDD is not considered an eating disorder, however preoccupation with weight can occur in BDD, and both an eating disorder and BDD can be present at the same time...
One of the hardest parts of recovering from an eating disorder is learning what to do with the constant “Ed” thoughts that stream through your mind anytime you’re anywhere. For those of you who haven’t heard of “Ed” before, this is simply a shorthand way that some people find helpful to refer to their Eating Disorder (E.D.). And for anyone who has ever met Ed personally, you understand the feeling of having your thoughts dominated by an unwelcome, critical, and never-satisfied voice:
- “You’re fat.”
- “Your legs are too big.”
- “That food has too many calories for you.”
- “You can’t pull off that outfit.”
- “You need to skip lunch and double your run.”
Changing Our Thoughts Is Not That Easy
When someone is struggling with such thoughts, a common approach in treatment has been to attempt to change, “fix,” and learn to control those thoughts. In fact just get rid of those thoughts all together and replace them with positive thoughts....
When I sit down to talk with the parents of a teen who is struggling with an eating disorder, one of the first questions that comes up is “Who’s to blame?” Faced with this question, many parents wonder what they did wrong that caused their child to resort to such behaviors. And then there is also the less-talked-about but equally common response, where parents find themselves becoming angry at their teen for “choosing” such behavior. So we need to ask: who is actually to blame for your teen’s eating disorder?
Why Parents are Not to Blame for their Teen’s Eating Disorder
Are there things that you could do better as a parent? Yes. Is it possible that there are dynamics in your family that have contributed to your teen’s struggles? Yes. But if every teen who had imperfect parents developed an eating disorder, every teen in the world would have one. The reality is that eating disorders are complex and multi-dimensional, and we cannot point to any single contributor, including an imperfect parent. Moreover, deciding that you are to blame for your teen’s eating disorder doesn’t help your teen to recover. For many pare...
By Gretchen Smith, MA, LMFTA, Seattle Christian Counseling
EXTERNAL CAUSES: Part I
I explored the five internal causes of eating disorders and I examined how the combination of a sinful nature, free will, spiritual depravity, and poor self-control can cause us to develop disordered eating habits. Though I believe eating disorders are mostly a result of an internal condition, there are external factors which play a role. In this third article in our series on the causes of eating disorders, I will look at two primary external factors that can contribute to developing an eating disorder: taste temptations and media pressure.
External Cause #1: Taste Temptations
Cartons of Häagen-Dazs®, boxes of prepackaged cream-filled cupcakes, and bags of potato chips haven't been around forever. Today, entire supermarket aisles are dedicated to high fat, sugar-laden, chemical-sprayed, preservative-soaked, artificially colored and flavored treats that are as powerfully addictive as cocaine. The proliferation of restaurants, 24-hour supermarkets, and convenience stores has increased the accessibility of every imaginable food, including those that are extr...
By Gretchen Smith, MA, LMFTA, Seattle Christian Counseling
Part I: Internal Causes
People with eating disorders – and those who treat them – often try to place the blame beyond the control of the person with the disorder; we want to believe that our problem happens to us, rather than in us. Personal responsibility is not a popular concept in today’s world.
Before I address the external dynamics that can lead to an eating disorder, I would like to look at the spiritual dimensions to disordered eating. This can be an uncomfortable subject, but one of the first steps toward recovery is taking responsibility for our thoughts, choices and actions. There are several internal contributing factors to developing an eating disorder; in this article, I will explore five such causes:
Cause #1: Our Inherently Sinful Nature
All human beings are born into this world with an inherited sinful nature: since Adam disobeyed God, all of us have become enslaved to sin. In fact, as we read in Romans Chapter 8 (especially verse 7), the sinful nature cannot keep from sinning...