I arrived home from college to celebrate Christmas, happily anticipating the family, food and holiday celebration. Halfway through the round of hugs, my anorexic sister appeared. She looked positively sickening, all bones and angles. When she hugged me, I almost vomited…I was hugging a skeleton. What had happened to my sister? I knew that she was struggling with under eating and over exercising, but I had no idea it was this bad.
According to The National Institute of Mental Health, between 5-10% of girls and women (5-10 million) suffer from eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Approximately 50% of Americans personally know someone with an eating disorder.
Confession #1: I was angry with her all the time.
I am not proud to admit it, but I was furious with my sister for making choices that led to the destruction of her body and my family. My parents were consumed with worry, my other sisters were strongly tempted to mimic her illness and my brothers were ignored. Anorexia is a mental disorder, but it begins with a choice to exercise excessively and self-induce starvation. I was angry with her for making such a harmful decision in the first place.
Sadly, months passed before I realized that my anger toward my sister was destroying me just like her disease was eating away at her. Anger will not cure an anorexic or help family members cope with the sickness. James 1:19-20 says, “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” And Ephesians 4:31-32 says to put away anger and be kind and forgiving. Choosing to live in a spirit of anger is sin and will hurt your relationship with the anorexic just as much as her illness does. I confessed my sin, apologized to my sister and God used that to begin mending our relationship.
Confession #2: I was consumed with worry.
Just thinking about my sister made me sick with worry. I was terrified that I would never get her back. The worry drove a wedge between me and God. Oh, I had quiet times, or rather times when I opened my Bible and worried over it. But I didn’t spend time with God because I loved Him. 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
In times of hardship, it is vital that you immerse yourself in Truth. You will be unable to help the anorexic if you are on shaky terms with God. Your church is God’s gift to you during this time, allow other Christians to help you bear this burden (Galatians 6:2). You may even need to limit the amount of time you pray for the anorexic, so that she does not consume your time with God. When I focused on worshiping God, He gave me the strength and grace to deal with it all.
Confession #3: I was disappointed in my sister.
I was so disappointed in my anorexic sister. She was a strong Christian before she got sick. She always had her quiet time and she prayed often. Then she became obsessed with her body and, in doing so, destroyed her Christian example to her family and friends. I was so judgmental of my sister and her struggles. I had no idea what she was going through, but I thought she should be able to overcome this eating disorder.
God humbled me with this verse, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:37 My sister took her focus off of God and made an idol of her body. All of us are weak at various times in our lives, and those weaknesses can pull us away from God. When I stopped judging her, I was finally able to pray for her and be there for her.
Confession #4: She made me want to become anorexic too.
Merely standing in the same room with my anorexic sister made me feel fat. A fellow anorexic’s sister, Amy, could relate: “Even now, when she is so deep in her anorexia, I regard my sister with a mix of awe and disgust. I can’t help feeling so large and ungainly around her. I know she is sick, but when I am around her I feel so huge around her! It tempts me to obsess about weight too.” It is obvious that anorexia causes extreme weight loss, so even normal-sized people feel fat compared someone so desperately skinny.
Satan used my sister’s illness to try to tempt me down the same destructive path. When I realized what I was considering, I immediately begin praying that God would give me the strength to fight the temptation to become anorexic. A wise woman counseled me to write key Scriptures on note cards and memorize them to combat temptation. My favorite was Psalm 139:13-14, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
According to the doctors my sister was the only one afflicted with anorexia, but not one family member escaped that battle unscathed. While there are no rehabilitation centers for family members of anorexics, there are some things you can do:
- Focus on your relationship with God.
- While you cannot fix the Anorexic, you can love her.
- Don’t deny that this illness affects you too; find believers to walk with you through this time.
My sister still struggles with her eating disorder, but as long as she stays in the Word God gives her victory. I learned a powerful lesson through my sister’s fight against anorexia – that living in the truth of Scripture is the answer to my every problem.