Bringing Spirituality into the Treatment of Eating Disorders

sigurdas Romuald Bokej “…thirty million Americans will struggle with some type of eating disorder during their lifetime, and a large percentage of them will begin to experience these complex mental and physical illnesses during young adulthood.”  That’s according to studies referenced in an article, “Eating Disorders are Tough, But We’re Tougher, by Alison Malmon in Huffington Post Impact.

Thirty million is a significant percentage of the US population. And the problem of Eating Disorders (ED) is increasing; once mostly found in teenage girls, it now covers a broader spectrum of gender, age and socio-economic classes.

And efforts to combat the disorder, which can lead to significant health problems – including death – are popping up all across the nation.  Active Minds, Inc., for example, is a national organization that empowers students to speak openly about mental health in order to educate others and encourage “help-seeking”. They’re beginning a “Get back-up, Be back-up” campaign for Eating Disorders Awareness Week, February 26 through March 2.  They are encouraging the public to watch how they speak to others about their weight; to know the signs attached to an eating disorder; and to offer help to those who are struggling.

And the programs are as diverse as the people struggling with this disorder – allowing anyone struggling with this problem to locate something that fits their situation and mode of thinking.  Eating Disorders Anonymous, which is patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous, bases its activities on a similar Twelve Step program as A.A.  Seven of the twelve steps reference God.  The third step is to decide to turn one’s will and life over to the care of God. The eleventh step is to seek “through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God,” and the twelfth step is to have “a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps” and to share the message with others.

Reading about this problem brought to mind a conversation I had with a friend several years ago.  She received a phone call from her daughter’s boyfriend one evening.  He told her that her daughter, a teenager, had an eating problem and that she couldn’t eat a normal meal.  She couldn’t keep down one chicken nugget and that this had been going on for quite a while.

My friend was distraught and confronted her daughter when she got home later that night.  The daughter was both angry and afraid, and she burst into tears.  My friend was both afraid for her daughter and upset that she hadn’t even known there was a problem. (Teenagers struggling with this disorder get very good at hiding it; parents are often not aware until a drop in weight, for example, becomes so obvious they begin to figure out something is wrong.)

After considering a wide variety of groups, the daughter agreed it might be useful to attend one led by a sociologist at a well known local hospital. It happened to be a group that did not include spirituality in the treatment plan.

But, to support her daughter my friend turned to God in prayer as this was the way she often approached any situation that required deep conscientious thought for a healthy resolution.  She prayed daily and supported her daughter as she attended the group.

Within a short time, the daughter asked to stop the group meetings. In her discussions with her mother, she said she felt she had made a lot of progress; perhaps more than others in the program. And the mother felt she could then share some of the inspiration she had received through her own prayers.  They both felt that prayer had made the difference in her continuous progress overcoming the disorder.

Apparently, it’s increasingly common for treatment programs to include a spiritual component. According to www.eatingdisorderhope.com: “Spirituality in the treatment of eating disorders has become a widely-discussed topic among clinics and centers that specialize in helping ED sufferers.”   And, “Clients don’t want to leave their belief systems behind in the healing process or feel as if they were being “pushed aside.”

For my friend and her daughter, the group discussions and the spiritual component were both crucial to the daughter’s recovery. The daughter has recovered completely. Their experience seems borne out in another statement from the experience of this group: “There is a deep interconnection between physical and emotional/mental healing as one cannot exist or occur without the other.”

Artwork by sigurdas Romuald Bokej uploaded from flickr.com

Kate is interested in blogging about health, spirituality, Christian Science, science, the importance of prayer and religion.  She is a Christian Science practitioner and the media, legislative and public contact for Christian Science in the state of Maryland.  She and her husband enjoy hiking, especially with Callie, a Blue Heeler, and riding motorcycles.