We both love how Matthew has taken the concept of sin and given a breath of fresh air to the topic. You must read this book because in its pages you will finally gain a biblical perspective on sin and what it takes to free yourself from the bonds that so easily entangle!

Gary and Michael Smalley
Smalley Relationship Center
When mental illness afflicts a loved one, how can we understand what is happening and respond appropriately? This biblically-literate and scientifically-informed book offers helpful insight, encouragement, and practical advice. For pastors and for those who hurt for those who hurt, Matthew Stanford offers sensitive and welcome guidance.

David G. Myers, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology, Hope College and author of Psychology Through the Eyes of Faith.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Eating Disorders

Eating is a biologically driven behavior that involves a number of brain areas and systems. While scientists understand a great deal about how our brains tell us that we are hungry or when to stop eating, they actually know very little about the biological basis of eating disorders. While a number of brain areas and neurochemicals have been found to be abnormal in persons with eating disorders (particularly anorexia nervosa), most of these return to normal once a healthy weight and diet have been obtained through treatment. This suggests that these differences were most likely the result of malnourishment related to the disorder rather than an underlying cause of the problem. In addition, the causes of the eating disorders are not as simple as a single brain area or a given neurotransmitter system but reflect a complex interaction between biology predispositions and environment factors.

One system however that does appear to be involved in eating disorders is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). The HPA is part of the endocrine system and is made up of the hypothalamus (a structure on the lower aspect of the brain), pituitary gland (a small pea shaped gland below the hypothalamus in the middle of the head) and the adrenal glands (which are located on top of the kidneys). The HPA is involved in the control of our reaction to stress and the regulation of appetite, weight, digestion, mood and immune system response. It has been suggested that a dysfunction in the HPA, most likely brought about by a combination of early life experiences (e.g., sexual abuse) and genetic factors, leaves the adolescent female vulnerable to chronic stress. This vulnerability is further exacerbated by the hormonal changes that occur at puberty (this event occurs just prior to the most common age of onset for the eating disorders). It is suggested that exposure to a significant stressor during this period results in a dysregulated HPA response leading to a chronic reduction in appetite and weight.

From a spiritual perspective an eating disorder is rightly recognized as a disorder rooted in deception. Women (and to a lesser frequency men) with eating disorders believe they are overweight, unattractive, inadequate, unaccepted and unloved. They believe the lie that only women (and men) of a specific body type are beautiful and accepted. While all mental illness has physical, mental and spiritual aspects, I believe that in the eating disorders we can more clearly see the spiritual effects than in any other disorder. This is not to say that biological and psychological factors do not play a role in the eating disorders, but this disorder has a deceptive quality to it that is different from all the others. It is somewhat ironic that the original sin described in the scriptures involved the deception a woman about food which brought about shame related to her body (Genesis 3:1-7). Of course, I’m not trying to imply that Eve had an eating disorder or that having an eating disorder is sinful, but believing a lie can be destructive. Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). The lie that he promotes in those that struggle with an eating disorder is that their bodies are not good enough. Paul tells us that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit who lives within us (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We have been purchased with a price and set free by the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6), and it is only that Truth that can bring about full healing in those who have believed the lie.

It is in the eating disorders that we clearly see how a spiritual deception (e.g., your worth is based on your physical appearance) can take advantage of a physical vulnerability (e.g., HPA dysregulation, over active serotonin system) and result in the symptoms of a mental illness (e.g., negative self-image, purging, self-starvation). Eating disorders aren’t really about food, but instead about how a person views herself. The Bible has a great deal to say about who we are as children of God. The scriptures teach us that we have been fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) in the very image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). He formed us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), planned out our days (Psalm 139:16) and brought us into this world (Psalm 22:9). By faith we have received spiritual birth (John 3:3-6). His Spirit has taken up residence in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19), and we are without fault in His eyes (Ephesians 1:4). Indeed we are the very children of the living God (1 John 3:1). These are the truths that we must continually pray and speak over those who are struggling with an eating disorder. The lie that is at the core of this disorder must be replaced by the foundational truth of who we are in Christ. It is only then that true healing can begin.

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