Eating disorders and the impact of sin

If there is no hope in this life or the next, what reason is there to live?

I was in Coffman Union one morning when I saw the most offensive sign I’ve ever come across. At a table run by the Women of Virtue, there was a message written on a whiteboard: “Are Eating Disorders a Sin?”

Eating disorders are recognized by both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association as diseases. Diseases such as anorexia and bulimia are attributable to abnormal brain function and are related to other pathological brain conditions.

Eating disorders often occur concurrently with depression, and it is because of this fact that I object so strongly to the Women of Virtue’s message. According to the Suicide Reference Library, the risk of suicide is 57 times greater for a woman with anorexia nervosa than for a healthy woman of the same age and racial group. There are approximately 7 million American women with eating disorders. These women live every day trapped in a self-destructive cycle that feeds them only shame and anger. Now we are going to tell them that this is their fault; that there is no hope for them in this world or the next; that they continually make a choice to turn away from God? These women have no choices. Their choices have been stripped from them by disease, and now we are condemning them? By insisting that these women can control that, we are telling them that they have the power to cure themselves. This is a dangerous message, tantamount to telling someone with depression to “cheer up.” The self-hatred and anger that go hand-in-hand with an eating disorder would be made intolerable by the inevitable failure.

Women who suffer from secret diseases suffer alone. Any one of us could be going home tonight to face this disease. The Women of Virtue are women of strong faith who believe that the message they are bringing is true. However, the damage that could be caused to a mentally ill person by telling them that their illness is a sin could be irreparable. If there is not hope in this life and if by uncontrollable sin there is no hope in the next, what is there left? Without hope, we have nothing. If our interest is in saving souls, let us start with saving the minds and lives of the suffering among us.

Keli C. Bolin is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]