I was on my knees crying out to God in complete confusion and earth-shaking fear. I asked, “How and why are we in this place?” Sometimes issues with our children can sneak up on us. Sometimes you realize in retrospect, there were signs and behaviors you didn’t ignore, dismiss, or deny—you simply didn’t know these behaviors signified something deeper. It turns out, my daughter had a full-blown eating disorder, and I didn’t know it.
My daughter was a joy-filled, energetic, happy, easy-going, silly girl. What I didn’t know was how offhanded jokes from a family member about how much she ate had hurt her heart when she was only about 8 years old. She developed a silent complex filled with shame none of us knew. Words are powerful. There is truly life and death in words. The jokes weren’t meant to hurt or destroy her self confidence, but that’s exactly what they did.
I never realized the thoughts of food and how much she ate began to dominate her every thought, her every prayer. Eating disorders creep in like a thief in the night and take over their victims’ minds and bodies. My daughter’s every intention was to be thin. She is now 18, and for the last 2 years, we’ve been dealing head on with a full-blown eating disorder. The symptoms and results can be gradual but they can also lead to a dangerous place rapidly.
My daughter’s illness progressed to the point where she was only a shell of vibrant girl I once knew. She had become part of a grim statistic: one in 20 people will suffer with an eating disorder at some point in their lifespan. My daughter had a mixture of anorexia and bulimia. Bulimics eat mass amounts of food, then purge themselves by vomiting, abusing laxatives or often through excessive exercising. Anorexia is characterized especially by a pathological fear of weight gain leading to faulty eating patterns, malnutrition, and usually excessive weight loss.
I began praying for extreme favor, divine healing, for her mind, body, and spirit to defeat these odds. Being a prisoner in her own body is no way to exist. But I had (and still have) faith she will be free from this death sentence. My hope in God gave me strength to walk with my daughter through this journey. I read every book I could read. We listened to therapists, dieticians, pastors, mentors, other parents, and did everything as directed.
And I learned a lot. In fact, I learned there were signs along the way I missed, but only because I didn’t know what to look for. I also learned not to beat myself up for missing the signs. I learned the person with the eating disorder is carrying a massive burden of shame and insecurity, so they become experts at hiding these symptoms. They’ve believed a lie about themselves that they’re not good enough. Not for you, not for God, not for themselves.
These are some of the more common indicators of a secret eating disorder. If you see these signs in your son or daughter, talk to them today.
Possible anorexia symptoms:
- Refusal to eat
- Many comments about comparing their body to others
- Chewing gum excessively (The act of chewing delays hunger pangs, tricking the body into thinking it is getting food.)
- Trouble sleeping
- Calorie, fat gram, carb counting; calorie-tracking apps on their smart phones
- Drinking diet soda excessively
- Tearing food apart or playing with it to make it seem they are eating
- Pets gaining weight (Sounds strange, but my 4-pound Maltese grew to 8 pounds due to our daughter secretly feeding her food under the table.)
- Personality changes: depressed, fatigued, change in friends, withdrawn
- Self-injury or cutting
- Feeling cold all the time
- Wearing baggy clothes so others don’t notice your weight loss
- In girls, missing or irregular periods
- Limiting food preferences (Often, the person will eat only a few things repeatedly every day.)
- Creating food rituals like chewing a specific amount of times for every bite
- Always have an excuse that they have already eaten: not hungry, have a stomachache, etc.
Possible bulimia symptoms:
- Calluses or marks on the knuckles or back of the hand (Formed when making contact with the incisor teeth while inducing the gag reflex)
- Frequent trips to the restroom right after meals, multiple flushes, faucet turned on and left running to camouflage vomiting and flushing sounds
- Using laxatives or diuretics
- Hiding food
- Eating alone
- Eating when not hungry
- Eating to the point you are uncomfortable
- Eating large amounts of food in a short amount of time
- Feeling disgusted or shameful or guilty after large amount of food have been consumed
I’ve come to a place where even though I know I need to do my part to help her recovery, I realize I do not have the power to fix, handle, or heal my daughter myself. This was a revelation to me. I believed my identity as a Mom is a caretaker and protector—only no matter what I said, did, or provided, I could not make my daughter love and accept herself. I prayed for her to find her identity in Christ and for this stronghold to be removed from her life. And by the grace of God, she is now on a path of life and healing.
If you’re still reading, I suspect you, your child, or a loved one is hurting. You’re probably wondering, What do I do now? I can’t express it to you strongly enough. If you think your child has an eating disorder, confront them—but in the most loving way possible. This disease is incredibly shame-filled. Don’t scare a cry for help away from your child because of a harsh approach. Take them to their doctor as soon as you can get an appointment. Do whatever your child’s doctor recommends. Educate yourself on what it’s like to live with an eating disorder. This book helped us a lot. Whatever you do, know you and your child are not alone. With hard work, and God’s help, you’ll win this fight.