It’s Not About Food, Part II
by Ashley Boyer
As seen in Brio Magazine in August 2007.
Last month you heard from Melissa,* who received help with her battle against Anorexia at Canopy Cove Eating Disorder Treatment Center in Tallahassee, Florida. Melissa told how an eating disorder isn’t about food but about issues of approval, acceptance and control. These issues cause fear, which is then attached to food. This month two more girls get real and talk about how they found healing from their eating disorders.
First up is Julie*. When she entered the room for the interview, she looked like a confident woman who had it all together. I was shocked to hear her say that at her lowest point she wanted to die. Listen in as she relives her nightmare.
“I was 12 when I realized I had this need to control what I ate, because I was very concerned about how I looked. I started watching what I ate and exercising. Then in eighth grade I got my first boyfriend, which was a huge trigger to continue not eating. By the time I started high school, my doctor had threatened to pull me out of school if I didn’t gain weight. So two weeks into the school year I ended up in the hospital. I didn’t learn anything about my disorder or the underlying problems; the doctors just pumped me full of calories to make me gain weight.
“By the time my junior year rolled around, I had discovered bulimia. I wanted to watch my weight, but it was hard in social situations, so I started throwing up. This continued in college, because I wouldn’t eat during the week, but I would when I went home for the weekend.
“A few years later, I told my Bible study leader, who recommended that I talk with my pastor. He suggested Canopy Cove, but I couldn’t afford it. The church helped me financially, which was just amazing. I first came to Canopy Cove just as an outpatient right before I got married. At that point I was only consuming liquids, and I was ready to kill myself because things were so bad.
“I knew I needed to be in residential treatment (after I was married) and discovered I was pregnant. We had wanted to have a baby, but my eating disorder was so out of control that my cycle was all over the place. I thought, If I can’t do it for myself, I can do it for that little life. I felt spared. I thought, OK, God, You don’t want me to die. And if I fail at this I’m going to die because no one else understands.
“I didn’t know how it would work to be around people who all had eating disorders, if it would be a competitive thing. But I felt so loved and valued. It was like stepping into a whole new world of positive experiences. I named my eating disorder Ghostbecause it was this black, evil thing that takes on a life of its own. I had tried talking to counselors in the past, but when I told them I heard voices about not eating, they though I was crazy! But at Canopy Cove, everyone understood.
“From my time in treatment, I can still remember restaurant day. I was so unprepared; I hadn’t been to a restaurant in so long. I felt such shame ordering food. Having to admit to someone that I was going to eat was a huge no-no in my mind. It was helpful to learn how to get integrated back into the world, because an eating disorder is such a world of isolation.
“My eating disorder was my identity – it was what made me special and different. I felt like I had this power over other people because I could do these things that they would be jealous of. But at the same time, it was sick and twisted, and other people didn’t want it.
“Trying to discover who I was and doing art therapy really helped. I learned I’m not my eating disorder. I found my identity, and I remembered all things I used to enjoy doing. But it was scary to let go.
“During treatment, I felt empowered. I didn’t feel like this meek little girl who could be taken advantage of anymore. I had a healthy baby boy, but I realized I might not be able to become pregnant again after all the damage the eating disorder had caused. Then, with my second pregnancy, I started having flashbacks to a time when I was 8 years old and had been sexually abused. I was terrified to have a little girl, because I didn’t think I could protect her. I thought, I knew the issue was in there somewhere. But my eating disorder didn’t come into the picture, because I realized it’s not about food. It’s about these other issues of abuse that I need to deal with.
“I did a step-down program to exit out of Canopy Cove. I had a meal card taped on my fridge (to help plan healthy meals). On a bad day I would pull out my ‘All About Me’ notebook (that I made during my time in treatment) and think, When I was feeling this way on this day, here’s how I dealt with it. Sometimes I would actually cover up my mirrors, write positive images on them or tape up Scripture cards.
“After treatment I had a miscarriage. My body still had that pregnancy shape, and I could feel my eating disorder coming up. I physically turned and addressed it, saying ‘Satan, no!’ because it’s such a spiritual war, too. I wasn’t going to let it get a hold of me, so I told my husband, and we prayed. By doing that, the eating disorder truly retreats; it shrinks back, because it realizes it doesn’t have power over me anymore.”
Wow! Julie’s living proof that it is possible to recover from an eating disorder. I got to meet her husband and two precious children, and it was obvious that God has truly restored her joy. I also talked with 17-year-old Amy*. She received treatment at Canopy Cove through outpatient therapy sessions with Dr. Lynda Brogdon, Canopy Cove’s founder. Here’s Amy’s story.
“My eating disorder started in sixth grade when I was put on Ritalin and I lost my appetite. I thought, Oh, I like being skinny!Then in seventh grade I switched schools, and I didn’t know anybody. I started scratching myself (but I wouldn’t cut) because it kept me from crying. I hated to cry. Certain problems with my friends or with my parents would trigger my eating disorder. I felt left out by my friends and especially by my Youth Group, which hurt even more.
“When I have those feelings, I find ways to cope. I’ll take a pen and a piece of paper and scribble all over and write crazy words. That’s kept me from cutting, along with writing journal entries. Coming to therapy also helps me. It’s nice having somebody to talk to, because I don’t feel like I can tell my parents.
“About a month into therapy, Dr. Brogdon had me name my eating disorder. I named it Fallen Angel. Naming it and really recognizing it was helpful.
“For anyone struggling with an eating disorder, don’t be afraid to admit it. Speak about it, because it helps you cope with the fact that, yes, you are sick. Yes, you need help. And talk to God about it, too.”
*names have been changed to protect confidentiality.