“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” -Alexander Den Heijer
During the first few months of my recovery I truly believed that my eating disorder was my fault. If only I had done things differently…if only I had tried harder…if only I had known. I now know that my eating disorder isn’t my fault, and that eating disorders aren’t attributed to one, single source. In Jenni Schaefer’s book, Life without ED, she comments that “from the outside looking in, it’s impossible to understand, & from the inside looking looking out, it’s impossible to explain.” I know that I will never be able to fully explain to a person who doesn’t have an eating disorder what it is like. However, I do think I will be able to give you a pretty good idea of what it looks like.
So, what causes an eating disorder? Eating disorders are complex psychological disorders that cannot be caused by one single attribute. Eating disorders are not about food…they go much much deeper than that. Food is just at the tip of the iceberg. Your story may look completely different than mine and that’s okay. Everyone is different and everyone has a different journey. There is some debate as to whether eating disorders are triggered by genetics or environmental factors. This question over-simplifies the complex nature of an eating disorder. I believe that eating disorders are a combination of biological, psychological, social, and spiritual components.
Here is a bit of my eating disorder viewed from the bio-psycho-social-spiritual lens:
- I am wired with an anxious temperament. Stress usually effects me more than the average individual psychologically and physically.
- Addiction runs in my family.
- GI issues run in my family.
- Depression runs in my family.
- Irritable Bowel
- “All or Nothing” thinking
- Guilt & Shame
- Low-self esteem
- Societal pressures & emphasis placed on body image and beauty
- Being made fun of for appearance as a child
- Health-food culture
- Nutrition major
- Fitness Culture
- Gluten & Dairy Free Diet
- Stresses of School and Work
- Lack of reciprocated friendships
- Calorie Counting
- Fit Bit
- Spiritual Warfare
- Lack of Understanding my identity in Christ
- Spiritual Depression
- Works-based view of salvation
- Guilt, Shame, & Condemnation
It’s only when all of these things come together to form “a perfect storm”, as my therapist would say, that an eating disorder springs up. There isn’t a single cause. My purpose in sharing this is to:
1) Encourage those who are in recovery. Your eating disorder isn’t your fault…my eating disorder isn’t my fault. We didn’t want this or wish for this to happen to us but it did. Now, we have an opportunity to rebuild our lives and allow God to create some beauty out of ashes. We have to let go of the guilt, shame, & regret. Jesus has washed that away. I am standing with you sweet brothers & sisters. I’m reminding you as much as I have to remind myself each day: You are much, much more than your eating disorder.
2) Educate families of loved ones who are going through an ED. It’s not uncommon for families to feel powerless in helping their loved one recover. Often times ED recovery is like walking in a foreign land & uncharted territory. My hope is that by understanding the bio/psycho/social/spiritual model you might be able to better understand how to help your daughter, son, sister, friend, or co-worker.
3) Encourage those who are suffering to get help. It isn’t weakness to get help. Eating disorders can be so suffocating that you need something outside of yourself to break down the walls & set you free. For me, it was Jesus, my family, my fiancé, my roommates, my best friends, my therapist, doctor, & nutritionist who helped me break down those walls. You may think that you don’t exactly meet criteria for an eating disorder. I believe that early intervention is crucial to those who are struggling with body image, their relationship with food, compulsive exercising, etc. If I would have sought out help earlier I don’t think I would have made the transition from disordered eating to an eating disorder. Take it from me, getting help to prevent the problem before it starts is a much better path to walk.