Quiverfull, Anorexia and Bulimia Prone?

Quiverfull, Anorexia and Bulimia Prone? July 14, 2019
What two bucks will buy you from the supermarket deli here in Costa Rica. Healthy and tasty!

Recently we’ve seen female cultural enforcers like Nancy Campbell, like Lori Alexander, like Debi Pearl carry on some significant fat shaming, food policing and body shaming. It’s been going on some time with all three women. The things that they post about eating, how they eat, what they think about the issues of food seems to reveal a pattern of disordered eating. They are not alone, it seems in quiverfull anorexia and bulima is prone to happen.

You have a culture in which women are pushed to be “perfect” at all costs and in every way. It’s not surprising that some would take an extreme stance in regards to their own bodies and food. You have to be a perfect mother, a perfect wife, be a size six, look like a model, yet live like it’s the 50s, the 1850s.

There’s something about this particular type of evangelicalism that draws women with the drive to be high achievers. It’s not for the faint of heart. Baking bread for a family of ten or twenty while being perfect.

Just take a look at the many quiverfull blogs. Many of them glorify food, or eating a certain way only. Nancy and her carrots, Lori and her big salads and ‘healthy’ chocolate. Zsuzsanna Anderson and  her  heavy carb cooking and new cookbook. A type of control.

There is one thing I do know, when you talk about and think about food so much of the time it’s likely you have some sort of problem with food.

I’ve thought about this quite a lot, thinking back about a very close friendship I had in my quiverfull years with a lady I am going to call Cathy. I never suspected a thing when we were casual friends, sisters in the Lord, but after I’d gotten to know her very well it was obvious.

Once we started traveling together I started to pick up hints that Cathy was bulimic. I noticed a pattern of her eating large quantities of food, once it was three full plates of whole grain pancakes and bananas, disappearing into the restroom for a long period of time. She emerged red faced, and many times I observed her following up these times by calling her husband Mike on the phone to yell at him about various minor things.

Like Lori, Nancy and many others Cathy had some rather strange, outside of the norm food rules and beliefs. She claimed she was an expert in using foods to stay healthy. But she came to an early end, dying horribly of a preventable disease much too young. I have to wonder how much it was exacerbated by her eating disorder.

I saw first hand how what she was doing was messing with  her mind and moods. How it impacted her health. More than once I tried to broach the subject with Cathy, only to have her deny what was obvious to myself and my entire family. To this day I feel the sting of failure, wonder what might have happened if I could have reached out to her in a way she could have handled.

She wasn’t the only one from my old church that turned out to have issues with food either.

I didn’t have the resources at the time to reach her. But lately I’ve been reading through sites on how to support and reach your friends and family struggling with these types of eating disorders. Help Guide had good advice.

A real disorder that prayer and happy thoughts is not going to cure, yet seems to be ever prominent in communities that are high demand. In some ways it is one of the few areas where a woman in one of these quiverfull evangelical groups can exert control over her world, their bodies, their lives.

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NLQ Recommended Reading …

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce

I Fired God by Jocelyn Zichtermann

13:24 A Dark Thriller by M Dolon Hickmon

About Suzanne Titkemeyer
Suzanne Titkemeyer went from a childhood in Louisiana to a life lived in the shadow of Washington You can read more about the author here.D.C. For many years she worked in the field of social work, from national licensure to working hands on in a children's residential treatment center. Suzanne has been involved with helping the plights of women and children' in religious bondage. She is a ordained Stephen's Minister with many years of counseling experience. Now she's retired to be a full time beach bum in Tamarindo, Costa Rica with the monkeys and iguanas. She is also a thalassophile. She also left behind years in a Quiverfull church and loves to chronicle the worst abuses of that particular theology. She has been happily married to her best friend for the last 33 years. You can read more about the author here.
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  • Mel

    I think high demand groups can appear comforting (at first) to people struggling with control issues and anxiety issues. After all, CP/QF land gives people an entire set of rules dictating everything in life – and anxiety tells sufferers that if they just do everything right the anxiety will go away.

    The problem is that anxiety is a liar (feel free to insert an adult word o’choice in front of liar).

    The most effective – although hard – way to beat anxiety is to do the opposite of what it is telling you to do.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    My (entirely amateur and second hand) understanding is that anorexia / bulimia are also a great deal about control and personal autonomy issues, where someone without much say in what they do or happens to them will hyperfocus on the one thing they can control – what they eat. I also understand that it is often associated with shame or disgust at or rejection of one’s “meatness” and physicality. Quiverfull would seem to pretty much therefore tick all the boxes for generating eating disorders.

  • lady_black

    Good pick-up. Eating disorder, psychologically speaking, ARE attempts at control by a person who feels out of control of her (it’s usually a her, but men aren’t exempt) life.
    Thus, it’s pathology. It’s an unhealthy way of coping with issues surrounding autonomy, and a particularly deadly one.

  • Saraquill

    I remember a former contributor here who was QF raised, had an eating disorder as a teen. Part of the issue was the obsession with modesty, and starving equaled fewer curves equaled modest.

  • Aloha
  • otrame

    When my nephew was about 4, (I’ll call him Joe) I got a look at how his mother, my youngest sister, was being treated by another sister. My youngest sister was brain damaged, but mostly perfectly functional—though she did need some supervision. The other sister had taken her in when she got pregnant. It was pretty bad.

    LSS, I got them to move in with me. My nephew was pathologically shy, never speaking above a whisper and that only to his mother.

    It wasn’t as long a fight to get them headed in the right direction as you might think and that is not the point I am making here. When Joe first arrived, the ONLY thing he would eat was sugary cereal and chicken nuggets. My sis insisted that this was a new thing, that he had been eating normally until 6 months or so before.

    I believed her and then had a knock-down drag out with the rest of my family about forcing him to eat more things. I refused to do it. I left him the hëll alone about his food. Yes, that was a horrible diet, but I knew that what was really going on was that Joe was trying have some sense of control and for the first month or so, I figured it wouldn’t hurt. I gave him vitamins, but otherwise I didn’t fight him.

    Then I got him to help me make spaghetti, which he, of course, ate. Without being forced. Then we made a few other things and he ate them. Then he started preschool and the social pressure at lunch time did the rest.

    All of which is to say that even at 4 years, people need to have at least a little sense of control in their lives. I think this is true even when volunteering to be “in submission ” makes them feel safe. It would not surprise me at all if control issues, like eating disorders, are extremely common in QF families.

  • Mimc

    My adopted brother also had food issues. He was adopted at 4. My parents talked to other foster parents and it’s apparently very common.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Yes, that is pretty common in adopted kids and kids in the foster care system. Many times kids from bad home life situations develop food issues because food was either just not there or severely restricted. We used to deal with that all the time at the childrens treatment center I worked at. We finally had to put a snack drawer filled with granola bars and healthier snacks in each cottage and a big bowl of fresh fruit. The rule was you could each as much fruit as you wanted and up to three snack packs a day. Knowing that you had access to food all the time helped derail that somewhat.

  • Friend

    A friend adopted two older children who had been deprived of food in an orphanage. She always, always, always kept a bowl of fruit on the kitchen table. The reliable visual cue helped to keep them on the rails, even if they did not eat the fruit.

  • Friend

    One of the best principles we heard as new parents: Invite your child to the table. Don’t insist.

    There is so much guilt about family mealtime. We give it almost supernatural power. I used to feel awful, buying offspring a hot sandwich on the way from school to practice instead of wedging a dinner at home into a busy day. Looking back, I realize that the sandwich was pretty nutritious, and the conversation was sustaining, and dear sweet offspring got puh-lenty of attention all day long.

  • Mel

    You did a great job with your nephew!

    And honestly, people could do worse than a diet of chicken nuggets and sugary cereal. Chicken nuggets give you complete protein and fat while sugary cereal gives you carbs and a variety of vitamins. If he drinks milk and juice, he’d be pretty close to a complete if high calorie diet. And adding a daily vitamin would take care of any deficiencies.

  • Jennifer

    Good for you!

  • Jill2027

    I can’t see a problem with carb heavy cooking. Carbs are quite normal. I would be worried if the cooking were heavy on animal based foods, as is so often the case in the United States.