What the church needs to know about eating disorders

What the church needs to know about eating disorders

So many social interactions at church revolve around food. Indeed, this is modelled from what we see in the gospels. I read once that when we see Jesus in the gospels, the majority of the time He is either going to eat somewhere, eating, or leaving somewhere He has just eaten. So having an eating disorder as a Christian is hard when it comes to spending time together.

Eating Disorders are estimated to affect almost 2% of the UK population, and over the last two years the numbers of people referred to eating disorder services have been rising fast. Eating disorders can affect anyone, young or old, male, or female.

There are three main types of eating disorder, although in practice many people will not fit neatly into just one category.

The main types are

Anorexia – where calorie intake is severely restricted, and exercise and/or purging may be used to get rid of even more calories.

Bulimia – which is a pattern of binge eating followed by measures to counteract the number of calories taken in such as purging, exercising, or fasting.

Binge eating disorder- a pattern of regularly (at least once a week) binge eating, without the counter measures seen in bulimia.

A binge is a huge number of calories taken in in one go, often up to twice your normal daily intake. People feel out of control when binging and frequently feel guilty afterwards.

Purging can include acts such as forcing yourself to vomit or taking laxatives to remove the food from your body.

Eating disorders can be very complex, and they are not going to get better over night so be prepared to continue supporting for as long as it takes.

People with eating disorders experience a lot of guilt and shame about their eating and often go to great lengths to prevent people from noticing so it can be hard to spot the signs. You may notice weight changes or avoidance of situations where people are eating.

Talking to someone about their weight or physical appearance or challenging them about how much they have eaten are not helpful ways to start a conversation and may make them feel more defensive about something they already feel bad about. Instead try to talk to them about any stress they are experiencing and how they are managing that stress. Talk about the importance of looking after themselves, emphasising self-care and being nice to themselves.

  • Encourage them to do things that make them feel empowered. Eating disorders are frequently associated with a feeling of loss of control in one’s life. By helping someone to regain some control over things in their life, even in small ways can lessen their need to control their eating behaviours.

  • Encourage them to speak to a doctor or other health care professional about their symptoms. Many people, particularly those with binge eating disorder do not realise that there is help available for them and it is not just a personal failing or impulse control issue.

  • Support them by making sure there are social occasions that they can join in with, that don’t involve eating.

  • Help them to improve their self-esteem, maybe by learning something new, or getting involved in helping with a charity. Think about how you can affirm them in their faith and support them in their identity as a much-loved child of God.

  • Support the people who support them. Eating disorders will affect the whole family and they will be grateful for someone to talk to about all that is going on.

  • Most of all just consistently being there as someone that will listen can be the best support that you can give. You may not understand why someone does these things, but you don’t have to understand to listen. Just saying to someone "I'm just really glad you told me, and I’ll always be here to listen.” Can be enough so that they don’t feel alone, you don't have to fix everything.

  • Eating disorders can be very complex, and they are not going to get better over night so be prepared to continue supporting for as long as it takes.

  • And of course, cover everything with prayer.

More information about supporting someone with eating disorders can be found on https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/

Also read “A New Name” by Emma Scrivener https://www.eden.co.uk/a-new-name/ an insightful look into the realities faced by a Christian living with and recovering from anorexia.