The Church and Eating Disorders

Research carried out at events and conferences found that 90% of church members knew someone who was suffering with an eating disorder. 70% of them knew someone in their own church. The majority said that their church was not able to offer sufferers, or their families, any help or support in their battle toward recovery.
What can the church do?

There is a lot church leaders and churches can do to support people struggling with eating disorders in their congregation or when working in the wider community. From simply having a better understanding, and an awareness of where people can get help, through to making some simple changes and considering sufferers when planning events. Churches can take steps to make sure that they are not places that sufferers find threatening, or even impossible to attend.

Caring for people with eating disorders is not just about sufferers but their family and friends as well. Looking after someone who is suffering is very hard, and carers also need support as they face frightening situations and experience a range of emotions. Sadly we hear time and time again of well meaning but unhelpful reactions from people in churches who do not understand the complexity of eating disorders. So, a few Do’s and Don’ts


Some Dos

* Listen with belief, concentration and without shock.
* Pray - Pray for and pray with, remembering not to ask others to pray unless requested. We do hear of wonderful answers to prayer however, a lot of hard work generally follows for the sufferer to understand and work through the background causes of the eating disorder
* Keep confidences - Being trusted is vital. So too being loyal particularly as the reaction to eating disorders can be so negative and critical
* Empathize - Understand what the person is feeling by being able to put yourself in his or her shoes, which is different from sympathy and far removed from pity
* Become informed - Trying to understand eating disorders a little can be helpful as a long as too much information is not relayed back. Finding information for them can be helpful within reason.
* Reassure - Eating Disorders can often take years of recovery
* Encourage and Motivate - This might be towards getting help and advice or towards recovery, for hope for the duration and perhaps even to keep faith alive
* Give Practical support - Offering help with day-to-day chores, lifts or child minding, to enable the carer to go out, can be invaluable
* Friendship - Spending time just as friends, and for the carer taking them away from thinking about their situation for a while is a great help
* Forgive - Conversations and friendships may well be rather one-sided during this time, and church attendance erratic.


Some Don’ts

* Feel powerless or inadequate so as to say or do nothing. Asking is always a good start.
* Don’t judge or criticise or voice anything sounding like one.
* Don’t moralize or theorize. When in doubt, listen or ask a question to deepen your understanding of the situation or how the person is feeling.
* Don’t compare “cases” you have heard about or flag up the horrors of eating disorders.
* Don’t preach! Scripture is a great encourager but not a prescription for instant results and many sufferers find that it is expected they will have ‘pulled themselves together’ after prayer which can be extremely damaging for someone already crippled by self-hatred and guilt.
ABC, 05/02/2009
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