I am recently married and have noticed some unusual behavior of my wife which had not caught my attention during our courtship. Whenever we share a meal together at home or in public, invariably at the end of the meal she will excuse herself and go to the restroom. While this might not be too odd, what has me worried is that when I have passed the restroom at home after dinner she seems to be vomiting. When I ask her about this, she says everything is fine. —-“Worried”
Your observations are significant and may well indicate that your wife is suffering from an eating disorder known as bulimia nervosa in which the person follows a pattern of binging and purging. Such persons may also be binging on food when others are not around and may be regularly using laxatives, diuretics, enemas, etc. accompanied by periods of fasting and excessive exercise. Sometimes with eating disorders there is simply binge eating where one is powerless over food, and sometimes there is an obsession with thinness and excessive weight loss in a condition called anorexia nervosa. These eating disorders are estimated to occur in 10 million females and 1 million males each year and can be life threatening (Mintle, 2011). While reasons for these disorders are complex and contextual, our cultural obsession with body image and the sub-culture of the church where food is an acceptable “substance” to abuse create an environment for these disorders to flourish.
As you have already discovered, denial that there is a problem is common and resistance to treatment high in most cases. However, these disorders do not go away without professional help. I would encourage you to engage the help of others to collect more “data” from observations such as your own. Close friends, family, trusted persons from church may help to confirm or deny your suspicions. Then, you can bring those persons together, along with your pastor, to speak directly to your wife about your concerns and the necessity of getting help. Your pastor may then be able to help develop a team who would work with your wife, including such persons as a therapist, a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, and a nutritionist. Used appropriately in combination with other approaches, certain Scripture verses can be of tremendous help such as Romans 12:1-2 (renewal of the mind); I Corinthians 3:16 (treating the body well); 2 Timothy 1:17 (not living in fear). As well, there are helpful books like: Mintle (2002), Breaking free from anorexia and bulimia; or Mintle, (2006), Making peace with your thighs.