when your Child
A Canadian author shares her story
to help others. By Emily Wierenga
She reminded me of myself at her age. Twelve-year-old Lisa was nothing but a pair of eyes and loose-fitting clothes. She didn’t have the energy to do anything but sit and watch TV, and this had been going on since she turned seven, her mother told me.
It seems to have started when her father went on a diet. But his
diet ended shortly after it began, and hers went on to become
anorexia nervosa – a mental illness defined by the deliberate
restriction of food.
When a World Vision commercial came on showing an undernourished boy who was all distended stomach and ribs, this little girl
turned to me and said, “That boy is so lucky. He doesn’t have to eat.”
I sat in stunned silence, wondering at a world in which Western children, their fridges full, refused to eat while the Third
World died dreaming of food, on a daily basis.
Singer-songwriter Karen Carpenter, who died from anorexia,
brought eating disorders to public consciousness in the 1980s.
Today 65 per cent of the female population ( 13 million Canadians) battles a form of disordered eating, according to a survey
conducted by Self magazine. Another 10 per cent displayed symptoms consistent with clinical eating disorders such as anorexia,
bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.
Children under 12 are the fastest growing percentage of patients
hospitalized for eating disorders, according to government data in
2009, and adolescent girls accounted for 90 per cent of all admissions with eating disorders (both according to selfgrowth.com).
As author Mary Pipher states in Hunger Pains: The Modern
Woman’s Tragic Quest for Thinness (Ballantine Books, 1995), “To
treat eating disorders is to treat our culture.”
Defining the Disorders
According to leading experts there are three basic clinical eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.
Anorexia is the refusal to eat. Often the aim is to numb feelings
of anxiety, stress, abuse and conflict. Low self-esteem, genetics
and poor body image play a role in the development of the illness,
but it can quickly escalate into an
obsession with control.
Warning signs include obsessive exercise and counting of calories, starvation and restriction of
food, the use of diet pills, laxatives
or diuretics to attempt controlling
weight, and a persistent concern
with body image.
Bulimia often stems from the
same issues, yet while anorexics
starve themselves, bulimics overeat
and then purge, usually by vomiting. The food serves as a narcotic to
deal with everyday issues, and the
purging releases the guilt of overindulgence. Bulimia can escalate
into a use of laxatives and is often
partnered with anorexia.
Episodes of rapid food consumption, out-of-control eating and
vomiting are warning signs. Bulimia too can involve diet plans,
exercise, laxatives, diuretics, diet pills and body image concerns.
Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia – the individual overeats to the point of being uncomfortable, but unlike bulimia, the
binging is not followed by purging.
Bingeing is a way of keeping people away, of rebelling against
societal norms of what being attractive or lovable looks like.
Sufferers may feel undeserving of love and use bingeing as self-punishment.
Helen Burns, founder of Mercy Ministries Canada, first noticed her middle child Danica refusing to eat when she turned 13.
“Anorexia wasn’t even on my radar,” says Burns. Looking
back, however, she now recalls Danica faking sickness to skip
meals, shoving food about her plate, speaking poorly about her
body, doing excess exercise and “eating” meals in her room.
“I began to pray and read about it,” recalls the author who,
together with her husband John pastors Relate Church in the
Greater Vancouver Area. “I prayed before approaching Danica