We live in a culture obsessed with food. Eating disorders, once the exclusive terrain of adolescent girls, plague populations as diverse as older adults, Orthodox Jewish women, and young men. On the other hand, the nation as a whole is experiencing an "obesity epidemic." Whether through self-starvation or self-indulgence, many Americans have an unhealthy relationship with food.
When I was 14 years old, I was diagnosed with a condition called gastro paresis, paralysis of the stomach. The doctors couldn't determine a cause and they didn't know of a cure. In retrospect, I think I had been eating so little that my body slowed to a halt in response. Soon enough, I couldn't keep any food in my system. It came right back up. I told myself, and others, that I was suffering from a rare illness. The thing was, I liked being sick. Or at least, I liked being able to eat whatever I wanted without any worry about weight gain.
In the midst of those years of doctors' appointments and visits to therapists and hospitalizations and continuing to insist to everyone around me that I was "doing just fine," I remember my aunt asking, "What is there in your life that you need to purge?"
It took me years to understand her question. My aunt knew that I had more than a physical problem. She recognized that mind, body, and spirit exist within an integrated whole. And until I was willing to see the same, I wasn't able to heal. In the end, recovery took an integrated approach. I needed prayer. I needed physical therapy to get my organs moving again. I needed medication for a time. And I needed to address the perfectionist tendencies (aka idolatries) that caused me to fear gaining weight and to want to appear thin and beautiful to the outside world.
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