I'm a Christian, and I have an eating disorder - Part I
I’m a Christian, and I have an eating disorder.
When I went to college, I gained the freshman 15. In a new environment, with a social framework that felt foreign, I lost my self control and found instead a whole pint of ice cream at midnight.
During the summer after my freshman year, I worked hard to get my weight back down to what I thought was the “right” place.
After achieving my arbitrary goal, I ended up with (misplaced) confidence in how I looked. It was a slippery slope. I put a lot of stock in that “good feeling” and spent the next year portioning out a single salad over 2-3 days. I would count out three Triscuits to eat with my salad at each meal. Food and I were not getting along.
The following year, the pendulum swung the other direction and I gained weight again. That’s what happens when you eat large quantities of glazed donuts in secret.
Years later now, the pendulum has swung back and forth several more times.
Looking for the right resources
As I’ve struggled with my disordered habits over the years, I have also struggled to find biblical resources for other Christians in the same boat. There are so many questions that need answering.
What does hope look like for a Christian struggling with an eating disorder?
How should I eat to the glory of God?
What is a “healthy” lifestyle for a Christian?
Is my eating disorder behavior sinful?
What do I say to myself when I look in the mirror and am disgusted with what I see?
Be encouraged. Because there is hope in Jesus for those who have struggled with eating disorders and body image issues. Your value isn’t found in what you eat or what you weigh.
This message isn’t said nearly often enough in the church. To some extent, I think that the lack of eating disorder resources stems from a lack of awareness and education. With millions of people struggling through an eating disorder at any given moment (about 30 million in the US alone), it’s time to learn more. Even if you think you know what an eating disorder is, I would challenge you to power through these definitions and to check yourself for stereotypes.
What is an eating disorder?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, eating disorders are “Illnesses in which the people experience severe disturbances in their eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. People with eating disorders typically become preoccupied with food and their body weight.” The three primary types of disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder.
Anorexia: Anorexia is what many people think of stereotypically for someone with an eating disorder - a person who deprives him or herself of food in order to be thinner, who is in denial about their actual weight, and who is clinically at least 15% lighter than the “normal healthy weight” range expected for their height.
Bulimia: Bulimia is characterized by binging sessions in which the person eats more food than they can comfortably consume, often quickly. Binges are followed by purging in the form of vomiting, fasting, or using laxatives. Though people with bulimia may diet and exercise with frequency, they can be underweight, a normal weight, or even overweight. Not all bulimics induce vomiting after a binge. Other “purging” methods like fasting (skipping meals to compensate) are also very common.
Binge Eating: Binge Eating is similar to bulimia, but has no purging process. People with this disorder will eat large amounts of food, often consuming it quickly and when they are not even hungry. These binging sessions are usually followed with feelings of guilt and disgust at oneself.
Before we get much farther, let me highlight one important point: people with eating disorders are not all thin. This is a stereotype that needs to be thrown away.
Disordered eating is similar to an eating disorder, but less all-consuming for the affected person. If you are unsure whether or not you have an eating disorder, check out this helpful (free) screening tool from the National Eating Disorder Association.
Daily life for a Christian with an Eating Disorder
Having an eating disorder is painful. Thoughts of food and weight can be all-consuming at times. It’s distracting, frustrating, and saps emotion and energy. But for those who are trusting in Christ, we have freedom from the grips of our disorder.
The eating disorder mind will tell you that your value as a person is linked to what you eat and how much you weigh. This is the big lie of body image anxiety.
Fortunately, you have a whole arsenal of truths in the Bible that will help you to combat every bad feeling that arises when you look in the mirror or eat the “wrong” thing.
True hope - beauty in Jesus
The mirror doesn’t have the power to determine your worth. You’re not a worse person for having eaten a cookie. You don’t have to make up for yesterday’s burger and fries by eating just steamed peas today (yes, that’s a real example). It doesn’t actually matter what you look like or what your pant size is.
Your weight will change every day. How you feel about your weight will change every day. What doesn’t change is what Jesus thinks of you every day.
In 1 John 2, we come to the understanding that Jesus is our advocate with God the father. So rather than God seeing our sinfulness (all of our sinfulness—including our vain pursuits of earthly perfection in our bodies), God sees Christ’s righteousness on our behalf.
My value is therefore not from my own efforts - my value is found in Jesus’s work on the cross.
If I place my hope in my own efforts to control my value, in this case, to control my weight, it will fail. Earthly beauty is fleeting (Proverbs 31:30), but the beauty that we find in Jesus is unchanging. That is the true hope for a Christian facing an eating disorder.
(By way of disclaimer, please note that I am not a doctor or a licensed counselor of any kind. If you are struggling with an eating disorder or body image anxiety, please ask for help from a licensed professional! If you’re not sure where to start, Faithful Counseling offers licensed counselors via chat.)