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.