Individuals who suffer from eating disorders need the help of trained eating disorder healthcare providers. The best treatment combines psychological, medical, nutritional and spiritual components. In many communities, individual practitioners in these fields work together with their clients in an outpatient setting. Severe eating disorders frequently require intensive, inpatient interventions. Families and other supportive individuals often play a significant role in helping their loved one choose to get better. Most professionals will consult with families on how to confront the loved one in the most constructive way. There are also professional interventionists who will work with the family to develop a plan and personally facilitate a therapeutic confrontation with the individual.
The responsibility for the recovery process belongs to the eating disordered individual. But when that person makes the decision to get help, family and friends need to be patient and respect the courage it takes for the individual to face the fears and obsessions that have controlled his or her life.
There are no instant fixes. Recovery is a process that only begins in the treatment setting. Support groups play a significant role in helping the individual accept responsibility for recovery. They are now widely used for recovery from almost every conceivable destructive behavior. The Twelve Steps: A Spiritual Journey (1988, 1994 California: RPI Publishing, Inc.) for example, is a support group workbook that is biblically based on the Christian roots of the twelve-step movement.
Recovery is a process of recognizing and admitting our brokenness and powerlessness, and dedicating each day to the goal of healthy living. In this process, he or she needs to make peace with God, others, and self. He or she also needs to learn to appropriate God's grace.
God looks at each of us as a potter views a lump of clay. He takes us in His hands, molding and forming us. All our experiences in life will be used in this process. Our pain and suffering are transforming elements. We cannot always understand the paradox that the way down is the way up or that the valley is the place of insight. Hope and trust in His promises compel us to action. So it is with the individual recovering from an eating disorder. As one young woman on the journey of recovery said, "These phrases from Psalms 51: 8-19 describe the process of recovery for me: "Give me back my joy again ... Let me rejoice ... Remove the stain of my guilt ... Create in me a clean heart ... Renew a right spirit in me ... Make me willing to serve you ... I will sing joyfully of your forgiveness ... You want the sacrifice of a broken spirit."
Crisis is an opportunity for change. If only we could learn to embrace it as an opportunity rather than get lost in the pain, humiliation, or fear of the situation. In God's eyes, brokenness is not failure. He transforms brokenness into character and wisdom for those who seek Him.
Steps to helping
Individuals with eating disorders tend to keep very quiet about what is occurring in their lives. At times it takes a keen observer to identify the sometimes-subtle nuances in behavior. Whether the warning signs are almost unnoticeable or glaringly obvious, if you suspect someone of having an eating disorder, attempt to address your concern with honesty, tenderness and compassion. If you have a supportive relationship with the person, approach them individually. If you are more distant, locate a family member or friend who may be more readily heard. If needed, locate professionals in your area who know how to identify and treat eating disorders. Below is a list of actions that concerned individuals can take to help:
- Confront the person with your concerns (you may wish to consult a professional on how to do this or use a professional interventionist).
- Encourage the person to seek medical and psychological treatment.
- Encourage the person to speak honestly with a professional regarding her or his behavior.
- Offer your loving support, but place the responsibility for recovery in the hands of the individual.
- Educate yourself about eating disorders and their causes.
- If you are a family member, embrace the opportunity to work with the individual in family therapy.
- Encourage the individual to be involved in support groups to facilitate recovery after inpatient treatment or during outpatient treatment.
- Pray for the individual and ask for God's wisdom as you assume your role in the process.
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