Keep It In And Cover It Up

Image: Binge eating. Alaina Abplanalp Photography/Flickr.

We read a lot about eating disorders in the news and in the glossies.  But what’s often striking are the kinds of disorders that are highlighted.  Anorexia.  To a lesser extent, bulimia. And er – that’s it. But they don’t stop there – far from it.  As well as those who have some symptoms of these disorders but not enough to qualify for an official diagnosis, there are many new kinds emerging: night-eating for example, an ongoing and persistent pattern of binge-eating at night. For those who fall into the NOS (not otherwise specified) category, lack of information and awareness can make their eating disorders even more difficult to address.

Binge-eating is perhaps one of these.

I’m not talking about the occasional blow-out  or the times you finish off the ice-cream when you’re probably full. What I’m talking about is a sustained and debilitating onslaught of calories. Eating and eating and eating until you literally cannot eat any more. Sounds odd? I’m not so sure. Whilst extreme anorexia is difficult to hide, binge-eating can go unnoticed for many years. It thrives and spreads  – even in our churches. But why?

I’ve got strong social and religious incentives not to go off the rails in certain ways. Let’s face it, if I develop a coke addiction, my minster’s going to have a word.  Plus, I’ve been taught that drugs or boozing are ‘bad’ and ‘unchristian’.   But food? Food’s fine. In a church setting, it’s unavoidable.  And outside of church – well, if I overindulge in the tray-bakes or spend all my money on groceries, it’s my business. Who’s to know? And anyway, I’m harming no-one. Right?

No.  For starters, I’m harming myself.  And I don’t mean in the ‘my body is a temple so I should take more exercise and eat brown rice’ sense. This may be true, but more concerning are the needs that binge-eating tries to fulfil. The way that food offers to ‘save’ me.  The psychological and mental pain caused by this slavery.

It’s hard to talk about anorexia,  but in my experience at least, binge-eating is just as taboo. At least with anorexia, you’re in ‘fashion’. Nothing tastes like skinny feels, right Kate?  But binge-eating – well, that’s just gross. That  is beyond the pale.

We’re bombarded with exhortations to consume – and the variety of options are bewildering and even distressing. Yet whilst our culture espouses excess in some areas, it  worships self-control in others.  It’s okay to max out the credit card because that’s taking care of yourself – and you can’t afford to be ugly. But once your appetites start to show up on your body – well, that’s something else.  No one wants to see your misery.  Keep it in and cover it up. Eat it and throw it up. But for pity’s sake, at least have the good manners to keep it to yourself.

This isn’t surprising.  Our world is fallen – and bonkers with it.  But as Christians, we too can be deceived by the same lies. We can be comfortable with certain kinds of struggles – but not others.  We can absorb the standards of our world – and by doing so, alienate those in our midst who most need our help. If this is you, don’t suffer alone.  You don’t need to be ashamed – and there is help available.

6 thoughts on “Keep It In And Cover It Up

  1. This is SO true Emma, it’s so sad that in our fallen state we only see part of the picture. Though I guess that’s also understandable – God never intended us to know everything, just to trust Him!

    I get very cross when people idolise a thinner body, whether that’s in real life (bad enough) or in print (even worse what with all the ‘enhancements’ that are made by our ‘beauty’ industry). As well as cross when those with larger bodies (and this is me!) are made to feel like they need to be thinner. And I like your ‘My body as a temple but not in a must-exercise-more-and-eat-brown-rice kinda way’ I don’t think this is want God meant by these words, it’s about holding in balance the need we have for food in order to sustain our bodies, and the laziness (or need for extreme self-control) that comes with living with choice. And I’m talking to myself here!!

    Hmm, plenty to ponder on… Thanks!

  2. Very perceptive… I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot recently because I don’t think my relationship with food is that healthy, but there really isn’t that much Christian wisdom out there to help. If I decide I have a problem with pride (which I do!) or love of money etc etc then I can pick up about 10 books on what the Bible’s perspective on that issue is at the church bookstall. Whereas, you’re right: if you’re not obese or emaciated then the church says ‘get on with it’ (and feeds you a lot!). If it’s not written on you then what you do in private – or the privacy of your thoughts – doesn’t matter. Or if it isn’t causing overt harm to yourself or others, it doesn’t matter…

    If we applied the same approach to our attitude to money we’d say ‘as long as you’re not a profligate millionaire or a totally tight-fisted miser you haven’t got a problem…God’s quite happy with how you handle money’ or imagine that approach to sexual ethics: ‘as long as you’re not flagrantly having extramarital sex that is obvious to other people, God doesn’t mind the odd affair…and adulterous thoughts? Why would He worry about them at all?’.

    Why is it we’re so bad at realising that food is a heart-issue just as much as pride or money or sex or power is? And where does the primary problem being ‘vertical’ come into it? How do we conceive of gluttony in terms of its effect on our relationship with God…as a *sin* against God? I find it an uncomfortable thought.

    I wonder if part of the problem is that the Bible doesn’t talk much about food issues. Maybe it’s because at the time it was written food scarcity made the problems of overeating the preserve of only a very few?

  3. ‘it’s about holding in balance the need we have for food in order to sustain our bodies, and the laziness (or need for extreme self-control) that comes with living with choice’.

    – exactly! thanks Jenni

  4. That’s a great analogy Kirstin. It’s striking how central table fellowship is in the Bible – and that Christ tells us specifically not to worry about the body or what we eat – but highlights the centrality of the heart and its desires in all we do. I guess our fallen-ness means that we can distort what is created absolutely good – but by God’s grace this can also be redeemed.

  5. I was diagnosed as EDNOS (eating disorder, not otherwise specified) a little while ago. It’s hard not to think “gosh, i’m so hopeless and such a complete failure, i can’t even manage to have a ‘proper’ eating disorder”. In some ways having symptoms that are hard to classify are easier to keep hidden. Going to the gym every day is healthy and honorable rather than obsessive and controlling, right? But the core problem, the feelings that underlie are the same, and need to be challenged and undressed. The thing that struck me hardest is your point Emma about not hurting anybody else, but starting to understand that was tough but an important piece of recovery.

    I’m pleased to say that I’m loads better now, and got signed off by the eating clinic last week. But it has been a struggle and act of will. Your blog is a real encouragement that I am not on my own. Thank you.

  6. Jojo – thanks for your encouragement and a HUGE HUGE congrats on getting signed off – that’s brilliant.

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