Just pray your eating disorder away

Gee, why didn't I think of this sooner?

A recent article said that people think eating disorders can be solved by prayer. The only reason I haven't choked on my evening tea was that this was from a Christian website, presumably polling Christians. Thusly, some sort of bias was inevitable. I don't think if you polled atheists that they would say the same thing.

So answer me this, pollsters: if praying solved eating disorders, then why didn't God hear me as I screamed for this to be done with?

You can pray all you want, and I'm not necessarily saying that this is a bad thing. But it's not THE thing. I can almost see it now: convents for anorexics. "Father, I sinned. I had an extra bite of apple." Okay, dear, that will be ten "Hail Marys" and a few "Our Fathers". Or whatever. There has been research done on medieval saints, such as Catherine of Siena, who essentially starved themselves to death.*

Several things of note:

1) These saints were, to the best of my knowledge, exclusively women
2) They prayed and saw their starvation as penance for their sins.

Now I'm not trying to imply a whole lot about Catherine's relationship to our contemporary views of anorexia, but if Catherine wasn't suffering from the same biochemical disorder as current anorexia, I'll die of shock. The psychology of her belief system about food was decidedly different, but the parallels are too marked for them to be sheer coincidences.

So if prayer cured anorexia, don't you think it would have worked in Catherine's case?

Then there's the point that many people with eating disorders suffer from "anogosnia," which basically means that they don't think they're sick at all. This isn't denial, this is really the true lack of comprehension that there's something wrong. Thusly, if you don't think you're sick, then why are you going to pray for a cure?

This article makes no sense. Can spirituality help? Of course. I'm not saying prayer is ineffective in helping people find their place in the universe and realize it's not all about food, that the world typically doesn't stop for a french fry or a piece of cake. Prayer is not the cure. Healing the brain takes time, and food, and patience. If you want God to lend a hand, there's nothing wrong with asking. But you cannot live on prayer alone, nor the Eucharist, nor anything but a healthy, balanced diet.**

Author Courtney Martin, author of the newly released book "Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters," writes in a recent article titled Spiritually Starved, Too-thin Girls Seek to Fill Void:

In fact, our worth in the world has always been tied to our looks, grades and gifts — not the amazing miracle of mere existence.
In this climate, we feel perpetually called to perfect our own "body
projects" — the term used by historian Joan Jacob Brumberg. Thinness and achievement stand in for the qualities of kindness and humility. We think that our perfect bodies — not God's grace or good works — will get us into heaven. We have no deeply held sense of our own divinity, so we chase after some unattainable ideal. Perfect girls, as a result, feel they are never enough.

Never disciplined enough. Never accomplished enough. Never thin

I used to pray before meals, sometimes before a bite of an especially scary food. I'm trying to be thankful for food, instead of regarding it as a curse. I'm trying to be thankful for sharing food with friends and family.

In the end, though, it's also about the food.

*Maybe I'm cynical, but does anyone else find it ironic that Catherine has a feast day?

**By healthy, balanced diet, I mean a wide range of foods that you find tasty and nourishing. Chocolate is nourishing. So is kettle corn, so are pears, so are all foods. I have nothing against even tofu and tempeh, if cooked properly. Balance and variety are the key here. Not what a dietitian says, not what "research" says. Your body knows best.

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Tash said...

I know quite a few people with ED's who are also very religious. In some cases their religous beliefs have totally screwed with their recovery. As have their parents religious beliefs and how they approach the ED's of their daughters. (I dont know any boys with full blown ED's although I know a couple with eating problems)

I might have a biased view as although I can be open minded, right now I have no belief in any God whatsoever. I do believe in spirit guides however. Just not in the religious sense.

carrie said...

Eating disorders are equal opportunity diseases. Religion can help; religion can hurt. I'm not saying that prayer is good or bad. It's just that the idea of 'curing' EDs via prayer is ridiculous.

Thanks for sharing.

marcella said...

It's amazing what researchers come up with isn't it? As someone who is a (very tentative and infrequently attending) Christian, such things worry me on two fronts.
First, as you rightly point out, it's open to dangerous misinterpretation by sufferers - FOOD taken in appropriate and regular quantities is the primary treatment for eating disorders (binge-eating disorder included). Secondly, it might seriously bias any sensible sufferers, carers or professionals against people of faith which would be a great pity. I know plenty of good Christian doctors and in particular one Priest and one Healer who have real gifts in true healing (by which I mean prayer, tradiional healing practices, AND PRACTICAL CARING skills like food preparation, hand holding and a hard won knowledge of mental health systems. Both of them find it difficult to be taken seriously in some quarters because of the view that they'll be simplistic like the people in this poll.

Tash said...

Marcella and Carrie. I'm not knocking any Christian/religous health professional helping in ED recovery. I, myself attended a recovery weekend that was organised by a Christian organisation and it gave me lots of tools. The point I was making was that I believe in some cases that religious beliefs have kept people entrenched in their ED's and parental religious influences have hindered recovery. At the recovery weekend parts of it were about interpreting the bible in a positive light. Making the point that God loves all of his children equally no matter what they look like and that God would want recovery and trusting in prayer can aid recovery in conjunction with other methods.

I advocate religion wherever it will help people. And where it doesn't I dont agree one little bit.

carrie said...


As always, you bring up good and interesting points. I love hearing from you.


I think anything can be used in a positive or negative light. Telling someone with an ED that they are a sinner and need to repent (been there, done that) is the polar opposite of helpful. But, as you said, accepting that God loves you no matter what and He doesn't want you to suffer- well, that's a whole different cup of tea.

I'm glad you shared and clarified. I wasn't quite aware of what you were referring to.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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Have any questions or comments about this blog? Feel free to email me at carrie@edbites.com

nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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