How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?
Proverbs 1:22 NIV
Kara pointed disdainfully at the cup of frozen yogurt on her tray, curling her lip back in a disapproving sneer. “I can’t have that,” she said, leaning away from the table as though her food might bite her.
“Really?” I challenged. “Why can’t you have that?”
Kara shook her head, still sneering. “It’s a dessert.”
I smiled. “It’s a dairy.”
“It’s a dessert,” Kara insisted. “It counts as a dairy, but it’s still a dessert.”
“Kara,” I replied, “Your body doesn’t care whether you call it dessert. It will use the calcium to strengthen your bones, and it will use the carbohydrates to give you energy. What does it matter if we call it a dairy or a dessert?”
Tears stood in Kara’s round brown eyes. “It’s…sweet.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “It’s delicious. Tell me again why you can’t have it.”
“I can’t have dessert.”
“It’s just a rule I have.”
Kara wasn’t alone. Many women who battle eating disorders devise systems of rules and rituals to impose rigidly upon themselves as a means of creating an illusion of safety and control. For women like Kara, food is militantly categorized: good versus bad, allowable versus forbidden, fear foods versus safe foods. These categories, they believe, safeguard them against losing control. But let’s get real. If a cup of frozen yogurt can make a grown woman cry, that control has already changed hands. Sitting in tears at the lunch table, Kara was not in control, but rather she was controlled—by her fear—by her rules—by her all-or-nothing thinking.
Little by little, we worked with Kara to challenge the framework of food rules that had become her prison. Over the course of several months, Kara worked with her treatment team and her dietician to identify the false beliefs she had developed about food and eating, and then our job was to help her challenge them with the truth.
If you, too, are enslaved by a system of false beliefs and all-or-nothing thinking, it will be helpful to do what Kara did. Make a list of your false beliefs as they arise (usually at mealtimes or just after), and leave a space to answer them back with God’s Truth as He gives it to you.
- False belief: Carbs are bad for me and will make me fat. Truth: Carbs are the best source of fuel for my body, and I need a regular supply.
- False belief: I can’t eat any fat. Truth: Fats are nutrients, included in God’s design for healthy eating.
- False belief: I can’t eat this dessert. It will make me gain weight. Truth: That’s impossible. One serving of anything cannot do that to me.
- False belief: I can’t have dinner tonight because I’ve gained two pounds since this morning. Truth: I’m measuring fluid shifts.
- False belief: I can’t eat anything unless I know exactly how many calories and fat grams are in it. Truth: This practice is intensifying my food fears and an obsessive mindset.
It may seem awkward and silly at first to talk back to yourself like this, but it’s important that we learn to talk back to our disease rather than just letting it continue to feed us lies that go unchallenged. Besides, we all talk to ourselves; our problem is that we haven’t learned how to interrupt ourselves.
ED’s “rules” do not have to rule us, and there is a way out of the web of obsession and rigidity. So, how long will you continue to be trapped in your simple ways of black-and-white rules and all-or-nothing thinking?
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Jena Morrow’s debut book, “Hope,” chronicles her nearly three-decade-long battle with eating and body image issues. In her second book, “Hope for the Hollow,” Jena takes readers on a thirty-day devotional journey to challenge eating disordered thoughts and beliefs in light of God’s Word. In addition to being a writer, speaker, and activist for eating disorder awareness and prevention, Jena works as the Alumnae Coordinator at Timberline Knolls in Lemont, IL, a premiere residential treatment center for women and girls battling eating disorders, substance abuse, mood disorders, self-injury, and PTSD. Jena makes her home in a suburb of Chicago with her son, Jaden, his pet snake Stephanie, and a mischievous cat named Prim.