Advertisements, health club memberships and Hollywood
stars confirm the cultural ideal: Thin is in. The nation is obsessed
with staying slim which, taken too far, proves dangerous. Though
issues deeper than weight loss can trigger eating disorders, they pose
major health, emotional and spiritual problems.
from Michigan shares with Evangel University students about her
struggles with unhealthy eating.
To combat such problems A/G churches and schools
are promoting eating disorder awareness and prevention ministries. "These
issues are permeating our society," says Dawn Jones, a pastor at
First A/G in Grand Rapids, Mich. "The churchs responsibilty
is to provide solutions and answers the world does not have."
In the United States, at least 5 million adolescent
girls and women and 1 million boys and men struggle with eating disorders
or borderline conditions. Those most common are anorexia nervosa, self-starvation
and excessive weight loss;, and bulimia nervosa, characterized by cycles
of binge eating followed by purging.
"Eating disorders are a Westernized phenomenon,"
says Christine Arnzen, licensed professional counselor and director
of the Counseling Department at Evangel University
in Springfield, Mo. "This is a very real issue in our culture and
in the church."
Major life transitions, family problems, and the
social and cultural emphasis on being slender often trigger eating disorders.
Cultural ideals of beauty also play a large role. Studies show 80 percent
of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance; almost half
of those and a quarter of American men are on a diet on any given day.
Last year 15-year-old Angela Barclay*, who attends
an A/G church, began showing signs of anorexia. Relational stress, academic
challenges and rigorous ballet training took a mental and physical toll,
and in four months, an already lean Angela had lost 30 pounds.
Eating disorders are complex with influences
and ramifications extending beyond food. Though Angela recognized she
was endangering her life, she continued to struggle to maintain a healthy
"She was 1 pound away from being hospitalized,"
Cindy*, her mother, says. The Barclays sought professional help from
Christian counselors, psychiatrists, dietitians and eating disorder
"It was a combination of prayer and meeting
with the right people," Cindy says.
Arnzen has seen God work differently in people with
eating disorders. "He can spontaneously heal and deliver a person
from this, but He can also use the helping profession and the struggle
of working through this as a form of healing."
Churches help build self-worth by teaching biblical
perspectives. "If we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, we
must learn to love ourselves, and be Christlike to our bodies,"
Arnzen says. "Our significance does not come from physical appearance,
but from our ability to love and to have a relationship with God."
Jones says First A/G will be starting a support
group for women who deal with eating disorders. "Our burden comes
from realizing that this is a life-controlling disorder," she says.
"We need to address it and provide healing and education."
The Counseling Department at Evangel University
has sponsored several programs to raise awareness and challenge the
cultural standards of significance. The Great Jeans Giveaway encouraged
women to donate an ill-fitting pair of jeans to benefit a family violence
center. A fashion show interspersed testimonies from students who had
dealt with eating disorders, with women of all sizes and ethnicities
A panel discussion at North Central University in
Minneapolis featured speakers discussing symptoms and dangers of eating
The Counseling Department at Vanguard University
in Costa Mesa, Calif., partners with Orange County churches to provide
eating disorder educational seminars. In conjunction with area churches,
the department is starting support groups.