Anorexia: Finding Hope and Help
September 1, 2001
by Birdie Laframboise
As my husband, Bob, and I greeted our daughter, Jenny, on that fall afternoon, we both struggled to choke back the tears. Although we'd seen her just a week earlier, the change in her appearance was pronounced.
Jenny was a freshman in college, and she was struggling with what has become all too common among young women today—anorexia. At 5'5" tall, Jenny weighed 95 pounds. And that was just the beginning.
Jenny and I had always been close. When she was a little girl, we played with her dolls—she was the mom, and I was the grandma. As she grew older, we often went shopping together, and afterward we invariably went out for "coffee"—that was what we both looked forward to the most. We'd sit and talk for hours while we sipped our beverages, and it was during those times that we had our deepest conversations. I suppose they weren't terribly deep when Jenny was eight or nine, but as she headed into junior high and then high school, the conversations took on a new dimension. She loved to talk and to ask questions. Biblical principles, along with the lessons I had learned in life, provided the basis for my answers to her questions.
Until now. For the first time in our lives, neither Bob nor I had an answer for her. We didn't know why her mind was tormented constantly about food, and yet she seemed unable to allow herself to eat. We didn't know why she was so depressed. We didn't know why God hadn't just taken this problem away. We didn't have any answers.
It was late June, 1998, just after Jenny's high-school graduation when we first identified her problem. Although her weight had been dropping steadily for only three or four months, her mind had been wrestling with the issue for about a year. She was depressed (which was extremely out of character), and she honestly thought she was overweight.
Bob and I had always been able to talk Jenny through difficult times, so initially that was our approach. We talked and listened and tried to help her "get over the hump." And of course we prayed. We prayed for her and we prayed with her. But Jenny's condition worsened.
Autumn was fast approaching, and we agonized over whether or not to let her go off to college. She really wanted to go, and since the college she had chosen wasn't far from home, we agreed—with one stipulation: She had to get professional help.
Jenny agreed. Shortly after arriving at school, she went to the counseling center and asked if there was anyone who could help her. The center referred her to a nearby specialist in eating disorders.
Throughout this time Jenny also was under the care of our family doctor and a nurse practitioner who monitored her condition. But despite the medical care and the ongoing counseling, the depression did not subside, she seemed to be crying almost all the time, and her weight continued to drop. In December of 1998 we reached a crisis point. Jenny was being weighed weekly, and when she tipped the scales at a mere 85 pounds, we were desperate. We felt as if we were watching our little girl fade away.
Up until that time we had not told many people about her condition. She was embarrassed about it and had asked us not to talk about it. If anyone had seen her, they immediately would have known. But because she was living at school, most of our friends remained unaware.
We decided that had to change. I telephoned my mom and my siblings and told them what was going on and asked them to commit to praying for Jenny. Then I called several good friends, whom I knew to be prayer warriors, and asked them. And during a weekly departmental prayer time, I discussed the situation with my Christian coworkers.
That was the turning point. The change in Jenny wasn't immediate or dramatic, but now, looking back, I believe it is when we first noticed progress. Slowly Jenny began to gain weight. We celebrated five months later when she reached 100 pounds, because we knew that at that point she was out of serious physical danger. Every pound gained was a victory. But even more important was seeing her mind being gradually freed from the twisted thinking that had gripped it so forcefully.
With much prayer by everyone, Jenny was able to get started back on the right path. And I believe that God used a year of counseling to give Jenny the specific tools she needed to be able to change her thinking and consequently her behavior.
Today Jenny is a senior in college, training in the medical field. She is healthy, happy and full of life. She has a burden for other girls who find themselves where she was, and her hope is that God will use what she has gone through to help someone else.
As Bob and I reached out to the Body of Christ for help during Jenny's ordeal, two things happened. Not only was there significant intercession taking place on Jenny's behalf, but also Bob and I received tremendous support—something we desperately needed. Family and friends called to find out how Jenny was doing. Coworkers often asked how things were going and offered their continued support. Knowing that people cared and were praying was so encouraging, and we understood in a new way our need for support from God's people.
If you are struggling with anorexia, the following steps may help...
Break through denial. This requires complete honesty—with yourself and with others. Can you say, "I am anorexic," or, "I am bulimic"? Risking vulnerability is a first step toward healing.
List your losses to see the toll that the disease has had on you: the loss of close relationships; the loss of physical health, which may include dry skin, thin or limp hair, or lack of menses; the loss of emotional health, which may include depression or irritability.
Keep a journal. Start with expressing simple feelings, such as "I feel tired," or, "I feel tense." Realize that emotions are friends rather than enemies.
Choose to walk in a new direction, away from your former behavior.
Picture God walking with you, comforting you as you go through the recovery process.
Accept God's love for you. Let Him help you as you choose to work with Him in transforming your destructive thought patterns. Ask God to help you learn to think in new ways. You don't need to be perfect before you come to Him. He wants you to come to Him just as you are.
This selection is adapted from "The Thin Disguise: Overcoming and Understanding Anorexia and Bulimia," by Pam Vredevelt, Deborah Newman, Harry Beverly and Frank Minirth, ©1992 Pam Vredevelt, Deborah Newman, Harry Beverly and Frank Minirth; Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, and is used by permission
If you have a child who is struggling with anorexia, there is hope...
Give your unconditional support to your child.
Seek help for your child from doctors and counselors who are specially trained to help those with anorexia to find freedom from their personal prisons.
Rely on the tremendous resource that God has given us in the Body of Christ—pray and enlist the prayer support of others.
Explain your burden to trusted friends so that God can use them to encourage you.