Suzie stared at herself in the mirror, slowly running a hand over her hip. She needed to lose a little more. She could see a muffin top forming when she bent over. No problem. She could skip breakfast and lunch today and hit the treadmill tonight. It was going to be a twelve-hour day in the pharmacy, but no matter.

She might feel a little tired, but a good run should take care of that. She used to swim laps around the pool at the gym, but some of the other women had begun to look at her strangely. Probably because she was carrying this extra fluff around her middle, she would take care of that.

Suzie was not aware that she was extremely underweight. Her eating disorder had taken root, and she did not recognize the bones pronounced across her chest or the bony vertebrae down her spine barely covered by her flesh that others could see. Suzie was no longer healthy, pushing herself to impossible limits, with very little nutrition.

Erika finished the Thanksgiving meal her family had taken hours to prepare. She’d waited over twenty-four hours to eat, so the meal shouldn’t make much of a dent. She knew that hiding her bites in her napkin would not get past her mother. Neither would pushing the food around on her plate to make everyone believe she was eating.

However, it only took one stomach pang for the thought to enter Erika’s head. She had eaten so much that she would gain at least ten pounds by morning. She needed to empty her stomach. As her family enjoyed the football game in the living room, Erika dashed up the stairs to the bathroom.

She turned the faucet on to hide the sound, then shoved her fingers down her throat, all the way to her knuckles. A tooth sliced her knuckle, but she tried again. As she purged her Thanksgiving dinner down the toilet, she flushed the commode to help hide the wrenching sound.

Breanna leaned back on the couch, tossing the bills on top of the kids’ report cards on the coffee table. They were two months behind, although her husband worked overtime. The kids felt their parents’ financial stress, so their grades suffered. She didn’t know how much more of this she could take.

Once the kids were safely tucked in for the night, Breanna made her way down the stairs. Her husband was working late again. She opened the pantry door and eyeballed the barbeque chips. That sounded good, and she needed to feel good. She was stressed beyond the max. She remembered the leftover chicken dinner in the refrigerator as she grabbed the chip bag.

Didn’t the restaurant include a chocolate cake with the family meal? By the time her husband pulled into the driveway at midnight, Breanna had consumed all of the chicken dinner, chocolate cake, barbeque chips, and a sleeve of cookies. She slipped into their bedroom and under the covers before her husband could see her. She felt sick and ashamed.

Suzie, Erika, and Breanna suffer from different Eating Disorders (ED). But they are not alone. 28.8 million Americans will suffer from an eating disorder during their lifetime, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD). But what causes this mental illness, and how can you recognize the symptoms before it is too late?

What Causes Eating Disorders?

Several factors can cause an eating disorder and not every person is affected by the exact same cause. Researchers believe that much of the eating disorder behaviors are a coping mechanism from stress, emotional trauma, or physical trauma. Feeling overwhelmed or depressed can create a downward spiral for a woman with eating disorder tendencies. When the world feels out of control, the one thing she can control is what she puts in her mouth and when.

The innate ability to compare oneself to others or seek a particular body type can also contribute to ED behavior. Teddy Roosevelt is credited for saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” This statement is blatantly true because when we compare ourselves to others, it drains the contentment from our lives.

However, controlled eating is not only used as a coping strategy or to gain a particular look. Genetics can play a huge role in whether someone develops an eating disorder. If a sibling or parent suffers from ED, they are more likely to indulge in the behavior.

For young adults and teenagers, peer and societal pressures can create the need to fit in with a thinner body (for women with an eating disorder) or a body with a low body fat percentage but higher muscle mass (seen in some men with an eating disorder).

Life events, overwhelming stress, specific jobs, and extreme dieting can also push people into an eating disorder to control their weight and appearance. When these behaviors continue, the brain’s circuitry begins to rewire itself to provide temporary relief when the food-control behavior is engaged. This is especially seen in Binge Eating Disorder when the binge brings on an almost heavenly (albeit temporary) rewarding response.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is one of the deadliest eating disorders. Anorexics are obsessed with the scale, appearance, clothing size, and diet. As with most eating disorders, the original goal may have been losing weight or meeting societal expectations. However, those with anorexia take it further, starving themselves or exercising to the extreme to reach thinness and below-average weight. (See Suzie’s story).

When the body reaches starvation, every organ system suffers and eventually fails. They can experience dizziness and fainting as their heart rate slows, digestive trouble such as constipation, headaches, brain fog, ceasing of the menstrual cycle, and organ failure.


Bulimia is another deadly eating disorder characterized by binging, then seeking ways to negate the binge with purging. The purging methods may vary, including forced vomiting, laxatives, and enemas. Some people may use excessive exercise to “burn off” the calories consumed during the binge or fast for several days.

The depression and shame they feel after a binge is tremendous and ends in purging. (See Erika’s story). Bulimics suffer from many of the same symptoms as those with anorexia: fatigue, gastrointestinal issues, depression, shame, and changes in the scale. Due to the acid from vomiting, they may also exhibit teeth erosion, cuts on their knuckles from self-induced vomiting, and bad breath.

Binge-Eating Disorder

A third well-known eating disorder is binge eating. Many people overeat during the holidays; however, those who binge eat consume large amounts of food, often in secret, hiding any evidence of a binge from their family and friends. The urge to eat feels uncontrollable and happens within two hours. (See Breanna’s story).

Even after consuming thousands of calories at once, the binge eater may still not feel full, although their stomach is stretched to the max. Binge eaters can experience painful gastrointestinal issues and acid reflux, higher than average blood counts, high blood pressure and increased heart rate, inflammation within the body, and increased body weight and BMI measurement.

Common Eating Disorder Treatments

Treatments for eating disorders are personalized to the individual based on the condition, the cause, and the patient’s circumstances. Typically, a treatment plan will include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, individual therapy, group therapy, dietician plans, and medications.

A therapist will work with you or your loved one to find the best option to manage (and overcome) the eating disorder. It may be beneficial to include family counseling sessions to give awareness to the family about eating disorders and how to help their loved ones.

The Bible refers to the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), and we yearn to honor our bodies as we honor God with healthy foods and behaviors. But an eating disorder distorts the view of the body. Connect today with a faith-based therapist who can work with you to create a plan to manage an eating disorder and experience the health and vitality God meant for you.

“Making Dinner”, Courtesy of Sandra Seitamaa,, CC0 License; “Enjoying the View”, Courtesy of Gantas Vaiciulenas,, CC0 License; “Smiling Woman”, Courtesy of Max Andrey,, CC0 License; “Sitting on the Deck”, Courtesy of Brooke Cagle,, CC0 License


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