Exposed! — And Why You Got an Eating Disorder (maybe)

When I’m exposed to good teaching, it’s difficult not to allow my cogitating to erupt in relative prose. How badly I want to convey the truths I’m learning but fear my attempts will be woefully inadequate. But alas, I’ve been exposed again and in my best efforts to internalize these truths, I’m going to try to explain them to you. And we’ll start right there…exposure.

Theres’s an old saying, “Children learn what they live.” I would modify that to, “Children learn what they are exposed to.”

In the realm of eating disorders, which I am most familiar with, it’s not uncommon to lay blame at the feet of modern media. While television, magazines and billboards cannot be held solely responsible, that logic does explain why eating disorders have become more prevalent in recent generations and why they are more frequently found in affluent societies. A quick look at most magazine covers, or a blitz through the channels, reveals that today our youth are constantly exposed to unrealistic, if not dangerously unhealthy images and ideas.

Our grandmothers were not exposed to Barbie’s bizarre dimensions. A girl’s sexuality was still considered sacred, not a bargaining chip for popularity, success and equality. Regarding sexuality, skin and bones was not considered sexually appealing—curves, soft edges, well-rounded hips and full-rosy cheeks were admired—not sallow complexions, hollow eyes and angular collar bones. History proves that we gravitate to, begin to approve and even see as normal the things that we are exposed to.

An example from close to home: A dear friend of mine, who struggles with an eating disorder, admitted to me that her earliest memories were of her mother’s self-imposed diets. Her mother’s voice still echoes in her head, repeating the familiar phrases, “I need to lose weight”, “If only I could look like her”, “That has too much fat”, “Well, I failed again.”

But there are other evidences of the power of exposure. Post-slavery in the south, many slaves had difficulty adapting to a life of freedom. They had never been exposed to freedom; or more accurately, they had only been exposed to captivity. How was freedom to be managed?

My niece is obsessed with the movie, Toy Story. Quite honestly, she never had a chance to consider other options. From the womb, she must have watched that movie 1000 times. It is her mother’s favorite, followed Monster’s Inc. Her frequent and limited exposure to a certain movie programmed her mind to accept it as the best. Even more so, because she has been so immersed in that movie, she naturally believes that everyone else has too—and that I too should know every character and phrase. Because of her exposure, she has assimilated a specific opinion of what is “normal” and “good”.

Is there a way to harness exposure and use it to our advantage? Particularly in the field of eating disorders, can exposure be a useful tool for recovery? I think so, however, my musings run contrary to some popular methods of treatment.

I was a treated at an inpatient facility for more than six months over three different stays at two separate locations. Without a doubt, I benefited greatly from the experts there and from the companionship and empathy of the other patients. However, just as we can be over-exposed to the elements causing dangerous side-effects like frostbite, sunburn, heatstroke or poison ivy, the dynamics of an inpatient facility create the possibility for over-exposure to eating disordered habits, unhealthy thought patters, unhealthy bodies—even too much empathy.
It isn’t hard to see how anorexic roommates at an inpatient facility can feed off of each other. Regardless of hours spent in therapy, the power of exposure shows that there is at least great potential for constant, continued exposure to others who are unhealthy as well, to perpetuate the problem. Of course, this logic should not be used to negate the importance of inpatient treatment centers. I mean only to consider all the possibilities.

After two moderately successful inpatient treatments stays, I relapsed—again. This time, I didn’t have the luxuries of money or time to return to a facility. For a while, I clung to life and sanity by my fingernails—by the grace of God. By His wisdom and mercy, He began to use the power of exposure to affect true healing in my life.

Slow, progressive exposure to the elements can deaden one’s awareness to the side effects. So too, as God applied to my life gentle, progressive exposure to health, life, moderation and joy I barely noticed the changes happening in my mind and body.

I remember a friend who struggled for many years with bulimia. She told me the story of her final, all-out effort to recover. Melissa asked a friend to go with her to a donut shop every single day. Every single day, Megan and her friend ate one donut and left. Through observing her friend and experiencing moderation herself, Melissa was repeatedly exposed to a new relationship with donuts—a previous binge food.

Exercise addiction was a huge component of my own eating disorder. In fact, after managing it for a time, I made a choice to expose myself to a new group of friends—a running club. There is nothing wrong with those people. They were wonderful, kind and fun to be with. However, the constant exposure to conversations about running, races, stopwatches, intervals and long Saturday runs warped my mind. In no time at all, I suffered from overexposure to an unhealthy pattern and found myself on the fast-track to relapse. Suddenly, due to that exposure, running an unprecedented number of miles each week became normal and good—my mental and physical default.

Fortunately for me, exposure worked again in reverse. We moved after about three years at that location. There was no running club in our new city. The streets near our home were not conducive to running and I didn’t know my way around the city to simply take off on my own (my proclivity to get lost helped me reduce my exposure even more).

Almost by accident, my running tapered off. Other habits began to take over, other forms of more moderate exercise began to seem normal. When I finally decided that I wanted to be well, I terminated my gym membership too. I recognized by then that constant exposure to the environment of a gym had negative effects on my pursuit of recovery.

Exposure to healthy influences has helped my recovery in other ways, too. I notice an increased sense of freedom around all types of foods after spending a week with my sister. Her enjoyment of food and intuitive response to hunger and fullness cues inspires and instructs me. When I cancelled my subscriptions to all of my health magazines, I immediately noticed a reduction in obsessive thoughts about diet, exercise and aspects of my physical appearance.

Traditional forms of treatment have their place, and in many cases (including my own) are absolutely necessary. However, in conjunction and perhaps most effectively, in the wake of inpatient treatment, intentional, concentrated exposure to healthy elements can be the difference between recovery and relapse.

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That’s What He Said.

There are few hungrier, predatory lies today than those that prey upon marriages and families. To that end, I recently wrote an article at StartMarriageRight, called, How to Get a Man to Talk.

That article got quite a bit of attention, rousing virtual dialogue among men and women, both those couples starting their marriages and those who have been practicing marriage for many years.

As I have been formulating and praying about a response, I stumbled upon (well, I stumbled upon, God was intentional) an article by Rev. Dan White. White wrote a piece called, What a Man Wants – Help! — Nagging, for HavenJournal, a highly relevant Christian ministry to women.

Rev. White takes a no-nonsense approach that might tempt women to balk. You know you’ve done it ladies, hands on hips, “How dare he,” “You don’t know my husband,” “I’ve tried that.” The trouble with that line of thinking is that this author is a man, so he likely knows the inside of your man better than you do, from experience. Also, he dares because Scripture backs him up. And, you may think you’ve tried what he’s suggesting, but what’s the harm in trying again?

In my article, I confessed that for many years, one of the reasons my husband didn’t talk to me much was because I filled all the extra airspace. Many of those words were perceived as nagging.

Remember Thumper? “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” Try it. Either shut up, or change up your words and your tone of voice.

And go read Rev. White’s article.

October! Fall is the new spring

I finished my quiet time this morning, pleased with the four full pages of prayer in my journal. You see, I’m trying to sort this simplicity thing out. I’m trying to find MY calling, MY truth, MY way – you know the “special purpose that God has for each of us.” The reason we be.

I worry that I’m not using MY talent, the gifts God gave ME. What if I’m not writing in the right venues, what if I need to put down my pen and DO something. I grabbed Brave’s leash and headed out the door the welcoming promise of October.

Here is October, barreling down on me, and I’m no more sorted, planned, completed, figured out or purposeful than I was before. Or before that, or before that. So, I kept my prayer going.

God, what am I going to write about this month? What can I share with others in October to help them be wary of the Predatory Lies so pervasive in the world?

And finally, God interrupted me.

Love, will you ever quit talking? Even our special times are filled with your words, your pages. Isn’t this supposed to be a conversation?

You do well to point out the lies that you believed and to warn others to be clothed in my armor and to be on their guard and to stand firm against the lies of the devil. But, what then? If you are standing against something, shouldn’t you also stand for something? If there is a lie, there is also a truth. If you know truth, you won’t fall for the lie.

I am the way the truth and the life. You must know me.

Understand this, I already know you. Yes, I love to hear your prayers, but you cannot tell me anything I do not know. I know your needs before you feel them, I know the pulses of your heart, I know when you sit and rise and, Dear One, I know your very soul. It is my breath.

But you don’t know me. If you spend the rest of your life sitting in my lap, querying me about myself – my goodness, my glory, my love, my wisdom, you will never know me fully. Shouldn’t you set your heart to the task of knowing me, even as I know you? (1 Cor. 13:12) It will take your life time.

So, hush. My friend, David, a man after my own heart, learned this. It became his life’s pursuit and the intention of his eternity.

“The one thing I ask of the LORD—the thing I seek most—is to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, delighting in the LORD’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.” Ps. 27:4

So, I will hush. My new intention, life plan, purpose and pursuit is to listen and see before I speak or write. To attend to my Savior and to see Him in His glorious October. This month, I will share with you where I find truth. Together we can revel in His presence.

P.S. I will be posting once a week in October.

Welcome September!

Believe it or not, here we are again – on the precipice of a new month. Actually, we just slipped over the edge a few days ago and find ourselves screaming through the final days of summer.

Fall isn’t so much a season in its own right as a transition with a name. I love that murky line between steamy days and crispy nights. I love the lingering green and encroaching brown. I love the refreshing promise fall holds. I love darker evenings, shorter days and first frosts. But change can leave you wondering what you missed in the moments that will never replay.

Did you play hard enough, rest long enough, spend plenty of time in the sun?

Courtesy of: http://boisdejasmin.com/2009/10

Did you finish house projects, take a father-daughter camping trip, lose the weight?
Did you do that Bible study, read your stack of books, visit your long-distance relatives?

If you didn’t “do it all” this summer, don’t despair. I sure didn’t scratch the surface of the privileges of pain, the potential of words, or the pleasure of poetry. So I’m going to keep going straight through September! Peering inquisitively into my pain, harnessing the power of my words and sometimes reigning in my tongue have been great lessons for me. They are broad brushes that color nearly every aspect of human life, leaving me with boundless questions and  an entire cannon of Scripture to ply for answers.

In honor of fall’s stealthy approach, I will change a few tiny things this month – like the first leaves to turn before cascading to the ground. On Mondays we will continue to look at the Privilege of Pain. I have a whole new perspective to consider – a medical application.

We will still celebrate Wordy Wednesdays. Ponder with me tough words like addiction. Wonder what’s in a name. Try to share Jesus without words. 

Friday will offer a little variety. I’ve been devouring a wonderful book called “In the Land of Blue Burqas,” by Kate McCord. In fact, it has fueled much of my thoughts on pain and how we use our language. I am honored to review various books for Moody Publishers, so on one particular Friday, I will entice  you to read this book.

Not that my opinion is to be over valued, but I want to share with you my thoughts on a couple other ministries and resources of truth as well. Truth is the only vaccine against or treatment for the Predatory Lies of this fallen world. And doubtless, my journal will be peppered with poetry prayers in September. I hope you don’t mind if I share them.

So there you have it! Happy September!