I’m going to attempt to shed some light on the “fear of fat” that people with eating disorders have. It’s a fear that comes with a lot of questions and stigma. I’d say most people dislike fat and want to avoid it. So when they hear that it’s a symptom of anorexia they think one of two things: “I don’t want to get fat, so I must be afraid of fat. Oh no! I must have an eating disorder” or “No one wants to be fat, but why would anyone actually be afraid of something so silly? Eating disorders are just made up because no one would be stupid enough to be afraid of fat.” Do either of those ring any bells?
The fear of fat that anorexics and bulimics have is so real and so raw and so deep that I’m not sure I can even describe it, but I’ll do my best to bring those who aren’t “in the know” into this very real fear that so many face day in and day out.
Let me begin by making something clear. To most people with anorexia, food equals weight gain, weight gain equals fat, and fat equals ______. That blank is filled in with something that may vary from person to person, but in my case, that blank was filled in with these words: failure, lack of (self) control, worthlessness.
Fat signifies failure, lack of control, and shame. Gaining weight means that one has failed and lost all control over themselves and the world around them. Gaining weight is the ultimate fear because it symbolizes the crashing down of all security, comfort, protection and control.
Let me try to help you understand this insane fear of fat. Imagine your worst fear with me. I mean your absolute worst fear (not a little fear like my fear of cockroaches). It may be swallowing all your teeth in the middle of the night, getting your limbs gnawed off by a shark, or falling off of a cliff into a lake of lava where you burn to smithereens. Do you get my point? It has to be your worst fear that will probably never ever happen. How do you feel when you imagine your worst fear happening to you right now? Terrible, right? How would you react? Now imagine that the threat of that fear happening to you exists every second of every day. The threat of a shark attacking you or your head being blown off exists every day and you can’t get away from it. How does that make you feel?
You’re probably thinking I’m exaggerating, but sadly, I’m not. The fear of becoming fat is the kind of fear that leaves you in tears, hyperventilating, panicking. It’s the full on adrenaline rushing, fight or flight, cold sweat, searching for any sort of escape kind of fear. It’s the kind of fear you feel when watching The Call times a million, except you can’t push pause or close your eyes to make it stop. The fear it induces is the kind of fear that causes reactions such as lashing out or fleeing the scene.
It’s not that people with eating disorders are dangerous or crazy (although some people like to argue that they are), but if you were being forced to jump off a cliff, wouldn’t you fight against it, lash out, try to flee? YES! That’s exactly how it is for someone who is terrified of gaining weight. Someone making them eat, is equivalent to someone making you jump off a cliff or walk into a den of hungry lions. You’d be insane to do either of those things willingly.
Fat becomes a curse word. Its utterance is not allowed in treatment. The avoidance of it becomes an idol, a reason to live. The gain of it becomes a reason to die, to disappear.
The thought of it, is enough to bring one to tears. I remember being in treatment and seeing the buttered bagel on my plate (the bagel that I HAD to eat) and crying because I simply could not, could not, put it in my mouth. I could not let it touch my lips. I could not let in to my body, for I knew that it would ruin me. I knew that it would leave be worthless and unlovable.
Before you start thinking, “Wow, people with eating disorders are psycho” let’s look at why this fear exists.
The fear of fat or of weight gain has so many factors, many of which are highly biological and linked to ones genetics and psychological makeup, but I don’t want to focus on those today. Instead, I’m going to focus on the fear itself.
The fear of fat is deeply rooted in lies. It’s rooted in lies about ones identity and worth. The intense fear of gaining weight can only take over if your identity and worth are tied up in lies. An identity that is rooted in what the world says will be vulnerable to the fear of gaining weight. If ones worth is found only in earthly things then only earthly things will grow.
Fear is just a lie. The fear of gaining weight stems from the lie that you are unlovable if you gain weight. The fear of fat stems from the lie that you are unworthy of good things if you are fat. The fear of fat stems from the lie that you are a failure if you gain weight. Don’t you see? Fear is just a lie. The fear of fat, the fear of gaining weight and becoming healthy is just a lie. A big old lie that Satan is trying to make you believe. Because, the second you and I believe that lie we are left powerless, which is exactly where Satan wants us.
The very first thing Satan did in the Garden of Eden was deceive Eve. He told her a lie, she believed it and that lie left her powerless, so she ran and hid from God (Genesis 3:3-13).
Jesus says this about Satan in John, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Satan is a liar. He just is, but you, you are not of Satan, you are of Jesus Christ and therefore can have victory over his lies.
We have now covered what the fear of fat looks like for someone with an eating disorder and what this fear really is, a lie. Now we have to ask, what is there to be done about this fear? About this lie?
I wish I had a three-step, fail proof solution, but I don’t. In fact, nobody does. No doctor, no therapist, no dietitian, no psychologist, no one has an easy solution to overcoming the fear of fat that is an ever present lie. That statement should not leave you feeling hopeless. While no MAN has an answer, GOD most certainly does. He has all of the answers and he longs for you and I to tuck in close, breathe deeply and to trust Him with our fears.
Because when we seek the Lord, he answers and delivers us from all of our fears (paraphrased Psalm 34:4).
Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we do not have to fear evil (food, fat, weight gain, failure, loss of control, anything) because He is with us (Psalm 23:4, emphasis added).
When we are overcome by these fears, we need only put our trust in Him. In God whose word we praise — In God we trust and therefore are not afraid. What can mere mortals (what can fat, food or weight) do to us when we have GOD on our side? (Psalm 56:3-4, paraphrased, emphasis added).
This topic is an extensive one. Each sentence could be expanded upon and books could be written, but I hope that you, my reader, have learned a few things from this post.
I hope you’ve learned that:
1. The fear anorexics (and bulimics) have of food, fat, weight gain is so incredibly real.
2. These fears are lies placed deceitfully by the devil to leave Gods children powerless.
3. No fear, no lie is too small or too big for God. He can and will overcome them all as we seek and trust Him…run to Him.