Loved one with an eating disorder? You can help
Recovered anorexic publishes field manual on helping friends and family members find healing
By Mags Storey | Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Photo courtesy of Emily Wierenga.
NEERLANDIA, ABPortion size, calories, when and how to eatfood used to feel like something in Emily Wierenga's constantly changing life that she actually had control over.
But when an eating disorder first threatened her health as a pre-teen, followed by a relapse when she was newly married, the pastor's daughter realized getting healthy would require the support of those around her.
Wierenga's new book, Chasing Silhouettes: How to Help a Loved One Battling an Eating Disorder, a field-manual for helping parents, spouses and friends understand how to help a loved one through an eating disorder, comes out this fall.
It also looks at her own family's journey through her eating disorders, and eventual healing.
"I think it's hard for pastor's families," she says. "My family was in denial for a long time. There also weren't a lot of resources out there for my parents. They didn't really know what to do."
Receiving an apology from her father as an adult was a key step in her healing journey. As was the insistence from her husband that she find help.
"One day we were driving home from church and I was so, so sick. I was just eating one small meal a day and drinking tons of coffee. And my husband pulled us over to the side of the road and told me I had to choosehim or the food. I chose him. I chose to get better."
The book includes interviews with her parents, siblings, friends, and Christian professionals who helped her through her journey.
"This is not just a personal storyit's the story of a family."
She says the healing journey is "a family thing. You need to walk through it with your family, and find healing together as a family."
Last year, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported some worrying statistics about young women and eating disorders. While 1.5 per cent of young Canadian women reported being diagnosed with an eating disorder in 2002that was over two-and-a-half times as many as those reported by women of all ages. Young women are also hospitalized with eating disorders in the same disproportionate rate. And while, 40 per cent of grade 10 girls considered themselves "too fat," only 15 per cent are actually overweight.
Wierenga is a volunteer counselor for the National Eating Disorders Association and speaks at conferences about the issue. She hopes people don't misunderstood her message to think she is implying eating disorders are something one simply chooses or something that one should "blame" their families for.
That's simply not the case, she says. They are complex mental health problems, which require serious, long-term healing solutions. But she adds that healing must still come from looking at the broader relational circumstances in the community.
"I do think there are some cases in which there are things the family has done which has had an impact on someone's life. That's not placing blame. That's finding healing which takes into consideration all the elements of someone's life."
For Wierenga, that includes spiritual healing.
"I don't believe it's possible for a child to want to die without something spiritual being involved… And I believe that only through Christ can you find healing, ultimately."
The book also includes suggested prayers.
Wierenga also has a book on motherhood and body image coming out next year, called Mom in the Mirror. She is also author of Save My Children, the story of an extraordinary foster family, and has another novel coming out in 2013.
Her prayer is that Chasing Silhouettes will help parents who "see their children suffering in any way" open the vital doors of communication. She also hopes the book finds its way into the hands of churches, pastors and lay leaders, and will help Christians get over the "stigma" of eating disorders and other mental illnesses.
"Communication is key to finding healing from anything," she says. "I don't think real church will ever happen until we let ourselves be flawed. And that's what I really want to get across.
"An eating disorder is something that's very hard to get out ofunless you have a divine intervention from God or from someone that you love. That's why it's so important for people to get this book, because there are so many girls dying."
From the latest edition