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. There are ways in which the sins of others greatly impact our mental health and wellbeing; however, when we speak of a “sinful nature,” we are talking about sinfulness within ourselves.
A traditional definition of sin is ‘that which becomes twisted or bent – in other words, to sin is to allow yourself to turn away from God in such a way as to become distorted. This is readily apparent for those who succumb to disordered eating habits. When we give into our sinful nature, we are distorted into something God never intended for us.
Cause #2: Our Free Will
I know it is extremely painful to hear, and even more difficult to accept, but an eating disorder is a chosen lifestyle. God gives us a will to choose how we live our lives; he wants us to live freely so that our actions may be genuine. However, it is much easier to blame somebody else for our poor decisions. Very often when we feel victimized, we are simply refusing to acknowledge our own faults in making choices. Of course, I am not suggesting that we choose the destructive words and actions inflicted upon us by others; but we do choose our behaviors, our thoughts, and our beliefs. Furthermore, we can indeed choose to allow other people to influence our emotions and perceptions. For example, if someone tells you that you are fat; you have a choice to believe or reject that statement. Of course, it is tough to challenge and deflect such a statement when it is uttered repeatedly, but it still is a personal choice. Wonderfully, incredibly, willing yourself to make right choices can also heal you from your previous poor decisions.
An eating disorder is preceded by a series of successive thoughts. Eventually these thoughts become a meditation. The meditation sooner or later leads to an action. The action is repeated, others are added, and soon habits are formed. Weeks, months, and years of thinking ED thoughts and performing ED behaviors go by and the stronghold is established. Very often, the person will be unable to see this development until it has taken its toll.
Cause #3: Lack of Self-Control
Many people with eating disorders feel helpless to control their situation. Yet, in actuality, an eating disorder is the cumulative effect of a series of personal choices. While it may seem that one’s ability to choose diminishes over time, those who indulge their disordered eating habits have chosen to do so all along. No one forces anyone else to eat destructively! A drug user can become addicted after the first injection, but he or she had to surrender enough self-control to be willing to take that first hit. It works the same way with unhealthy eating habits.
Many people with EDs who have suffered terrible tragedies believe that people or events caused their disorder. However, it is my educated opinion that a person with a lust for food will find SOMETHING to eat over. When the Lord began healing me emotionally and many of my excuses for overeating vanished, I discovered that one reason I over indulged was because I wanted to eat. It may not have been the main reason I started eating excessively, but it was surely the chief reason I continued to do it. I love tasting and swallowing delicious foods, period.
The fact that a person is caught up in an eating disorder indicates that something within has become distorted. Seeking the advice and discernment of a qualified Christian mental health counselor can help you discern God’s will for you and empower you to take control of your choices. If you recognize any of these internal roots of disordered eating in your own life, we at Millcreek Christian Counseling encourage you to seek professional help to guide you back to health and wellbeing in the promises of God.
To learn about the final two internal causes of eating disorders, please continue reading this series at [insert hyperlink—title: “The Internal Causes of Eating Disorders, Part II.”]
Images cc: freedigitalphotos.net – “Weight Loss” by sattva and “PersonSstanding on Weight Scale” by hyena reality