RENOVATION: Overcoming Eating Disorders Through the Born-Again Spirit
What are eating disorders? Eating Disorders is the name given the collection of destructive eating-related behaviors which are practiced by increasingly greater numbers of men, women, and children in the United States and other countries. Most eating disorders resemble one of three main categories:
3) Binge Eating Disorder
Anorexia, also known as Anorexia Nervosa, is the term given to people who purposely under-eat. There are a variety of behaviors associated with anorexia, but some of the more common ones are eating very little, or limiting intake to very low-calorie foods (such as carrots, celery, diet soda, water etc.), abusive laxative, diuretic, and/or enema use, compulsive exercising, and self-mutilation. Some anorexics, like bulimics, employ vomiting as a means of controlling unwanted weight gain, but instead of throwing up after a binge (a "pure" anorexic would never binge), the anorexic does it after eating a normal meal,or after eating anything at all. The most obvious symptom of anorexia is extreme thinness, yet even those who become emaciated often believe they are fat.
Someone suffering from Bulimia binges on large quantities of food, either regularly or periodically, and then purges the food from his/her body, either by forced vomiting or using laxatives. The bulimic may also be a compulsive exerciser and is often a chronic dieter. He or she may even employ extreme measures, including near starvation, as a means of weight loss between binges. A major characteristic of bulimia is a domineering fear of getting fat, even though many bulimics are at a healthy weight or slightly over- or underweight.
The most common eating disorder is Compulsive and/or Binge Eating, the practice of gluttony without undoing the "damage" through purging, laxatives, or exercise. The compulsive or binge eater simply eats too much too often and often makes poor quality food choices. The most obvious outward sign of this disorder is the condition of being significantly overweight or obese.. This person may constantly be eating (compulsive eating) or have episodes of eating very large quantities of food (binge eating) separated by stretches of regular eating. Many are ashamed to eat in view of others, while others readily eat socially acceptable amounts and types of food publicly, but graze on junk food or gorge themselves in private. Compulsive eaters feel "compelled" (actually "impelled") to eat for an assortment of reasons in addition to, but not limited to, real physical hunger. These people become overweight when they eat more food than their bodies need, and/or else they consistently choose the wrong kinds of food (high fat/high calorie/high sugar). People who compulsively eat may be very distressed about their food intake and body size or they may seem to not care at all. Some are amazingly unaware of the fact that they have a problem, which is called "denial."
"How do I know if I have, or if someone I know has an eating disorder?" If you or someone you know easily matches one of the above profiles, the answer is obvious. However, eating disorders are not limited to any set descriptions. Perhaps you have, or the person in question has a different twist, or a blend of symptoms from two or all three classifications. Many people "flip flop" between disorders. Here are two great rules of thumb:
- Eating behavior has a cost, negatively affecting one or more of the following:
If you're upset about it, then most likely it's serious.
WHERE DO EATING DISORDERS COME FROM?
It seems to be human nature to always want to understand the "why." What causes an eating disorder to develop?
People with eating disorders and those who treat them have forever been trying to place the blame somewhere, typically outside the person with the disorder; we want to believe that our problem happens to us, rather than in us. Society loves and adores the victim model. Commonly, we are taught to blame our problematic behaviors on negative life experiences and the people who contributed to them, or on disease, or even on genetics. Personal responsibility is not too popular a concept in most circles.
I want to outline here the five internal reasons for the practice of an eating disorder:
Possession of a "sin nature."
All human beings are born into this world with a nature passed from Adam that embraces sin. Sin is a sad fact of life. In fact, according to the Bible, the sinful nature cannot keep from sinning (Romans 8, particularly verse 7). People with eating disorders have become heavily enmeshed in sins such as idolatry, lasciviousness (lust for pleasure, indulgence), gluttony, lack of regard for God's temple (the body), extreme vanity, envy, self-centeredness, selfishness, control, rage, fearfulness, dishonesty, and theft, to name a few.
I know it is extremely hard to hear, and even harder to accept, but an eating disorder is a chosen lifestyle. Just as everyone possesses a carnal, or sinful nature from birth, so also do we come into this world with a free will. Most people don't really realize just how free they are to choose. The fact is, much of what we feel victimized by we actually played a huge part in bringing on ourselves because of choices we have made (Please note that I am not suggesting that we choose the hurtful, cruel words and actions that are inflicted upon us by other people. That is a ridiculous notion.). We choose our actions, ourthoughts, and our beliefs, and through these choices, we also choose our emotions. If someone says, "you're stupid," you have a choice to believe or reject that statement. Granted, if a person hears this again and again, it is a tough thing to resist, especially for a vulnerable and immature child, but it still is a personal choice. The neat thing is that the power of choice also can bring about the reversal of the fallout from such damaging choices.
An eating disorder is first preceded by a thought. Then another thought, and then another. Eventually these thoughts become a meditation. The meditation sooner or later leads to an action. Very often, a person does not realize at this stage of the game how serious it all really is, and how "bound" she will soon become. The action is repeated, others are added, and soon habits are formed. Weeks, months, and years of thinking ED thoughts and performing ED behaviors go by and the stronghold is established.
Lack of self-control.
The characteristic that is common to all eating disorders is the feeling of helplessness. Yet, in actuality, an eating disorder is the cumulative effect of a series of choices. People do in fact get to a point where the ability to choose seems completely spent, but originally, choices were available, and choices were made. We use the word "compulsive" to describe people and behavior, when we actually mean "impulsive." No one forces anyone else to eat weird. A drug addict can became "hopelessly" addicted after the first shot, but he/she was doomed to become a junkie when he/she made the succession of choices that led to a willingness to try that first hit of the drug. It works the same way with unhealthy eating habits.
Many people who have suffered terrible tragedies in their lives believe that people or events caused their eating disorders. It is my educated opinion that a person with a lust for food, for instance, will find SOMETHING to eat over; it might be a big thing, it might be little things, it might be almost everything. When the Lord began healing me emotionally, and my life was getting better and better, and a many of my excuses for overeating were gone, I remember well how startling it was to discover that one big reason I overate was because I wanted to eat. It may not have been the main reason I started over-eating, but it surely was the chief reason I continued to do it. I love tasting and swallowing delicious foods, period. All I needed were excuses, and excuses are a dime a dozen, aren't they?
Not only do people with eating disorders lack discipline to control their thoughts about eating or not eating, but a whole lot of other thoughts are raging out of control. Ungodly, and therefore unhealthy, preoccupations run rampant. Untruthful, unproven, and otherwise destructive statements and ideas have been permitted to repeat again and again in their minds, becoming "tapes" which they play to themselves. This is how a faulty belief system is formed, and it influences both emotions and actions.
Disordered people spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about themselves and their problem. They may appear to be people pleasers, but their constant giving is often a control measure. The hope is that if they are just nice enough, good enough, helpful enough that they can in effect manipulate people into the desired response, thus they hope to establish a sense of security through the approval, respect, and loyalty "due" them by others. Knowing that someone is angry or upset at them, or otherwise disapproving, gives rise to feelings of fear of rejection or even abandonment. It also serves as "proof" to themselves that they really are bad, worthless, stupid, and undeserving of love.
People with eating disorders generally have a wrong self-concept. They typically are self-loathing, self-condemning, self-punishing, and utterly self-absorbed. They may hide behind a convincing facade of confidence and well-put-togetherness, and they are often high-achievers, but they don't know their intrinsic worth. Their fragile self-concepts are built upon the wrong foundation and are heavily influenced by distortions and lies.
Unforgiveness, which keeps people mired in their past, is fed and kept alive through thoughts. Carrying around unforgiveness can act as an incentive to drown painful feelings with eating (and/or other pleasures) or to overly control the body (through starvation, overexercising) as a peculiar response to uncontrolled emotional pain. Unforgiveness stymies the healing process.
I mention this last, because the previous three are all really a result of this one: A person currently practicing an eating disorder is hurting spiritually in at least some area.
Not always, but often, a person practicing an ED is not praying. She is either not praying at all, or else not consistently. Just like a marriage, or a friendship, or any other important relationship, your intimacy with God is dependent on quality, regular communication.
Another common problem is failing to recognize sin as sin. Many Christians, for instance, do not consider overeating to be synonymous with the "gluttony" spoken of repeatedly in the Bible. Such a Christian may be doing very well spiritually and taking dominion over her flesh in many areas, but she's hardened her heart when it comes to her eating habits. Similarly, an anorexic Christian may not equate his unnatural thinness with the destruction of God's temple. Rationalization plays a key role here, as the glutton says to herself "God made food for His people to enjoy!" and the anorexic extols the "virtue" of self-control and a "fasted life."
Other Christians are properly convicted of sin, but they are insufficiently taught and so their spiritual ignorance keeps them from the victory that belongs to them. Every believer's teacher is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches as He speaks through our pastors and as we spend time reading and meditating the Bible on our own. Your pastor can only deliver to you what the Holy Spirit has illuminated in his own spirit; all else he passes to you is from mere human understanding. Furthermore, if there is some part of God's Word that he doesn't like or overlooks for other reasons, He cannot minister to you in that area. It is important that you know your pastor is spending a great deal of time praying and meditating God's Word, because that will determine what and how much THE teacher, the Holy Spirit, is able to deposit into his spirit to give to you! And as you spend your own time reading your Bible and praying over it, there is a limitless potential for the Holy Spirit to "lead you into all truth" (John 16:13). It's a matter of how much time and effort you are willing to put in. How hungry are you? (NOTE: Hunger for God and His truth can be "purposely" stirred up and developed!)
We know from 2 Peter 1:3-4 that the person who has a spirit that is alive to God (born again) has access to every Promise needed to overcome every evil desire she can possibly encounter. If you are overtaken in a sin, there is Word from God that needs to be illuminated in your spirit by the Holy Spirit. For this reason, prayer and getting God's Word into your spirit are THE crucial elements for overcoming an ED.
Yet another scenario is the backslidden Christian or one who has a very shallow relationship with the Lord. This person is walking most if not all of the time in his flesh rather than in his spirit. Every attempt to overcome an ED is purely under his own steam. Failure is his trademark.
And others are simply trying to navigate life completely separate from God.
Those were just a few examples. In short, a mature Christian, communing with God, conformed into the image of Christ will not perform eating disorder behaviors. But none of us have completed the process to perfection, nor will we as long as we live on this earth and dwell in these temporal bodies. We can only pursue "Christlikeness" and "press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:14). The fact that a person is caught up in an ED is proof positive that something is wrong, some stone hasn't yet been turned. Ask the Lord to show you what it is!
Though I believe eating disorders are primarily a result of an internal condition, there are external factors which play a more minor role.
In modern, technologically advanced nations, we now have such widespread and sophisticated media that it is impossible to avoid exposure. Radio, television, books, magazines, fliers, posters, motion pictures, and now the Internet inundate us daily with images and criteria of beauty. By way of these same avenues, people, but women in particular, are taught that physical attractiveness, as defined by the powers that be, is our most important asset. A fear is hammered into us day after day, year after year, from the day we are born, that if we are not pretty or handsome or thin, we will not be loved and that we do not even deserve to be loved. What is worse, the mindset created by this propaganda has led to a society of people who behave in such a way that many do experience rejection based upon their physical appearance alone.
The body has become an idol for many, many people, and the pursuit of thinness or physical excellence a driving obsession.
Boxes of prepackaged cream-filled cupcakes and bags of potato chips haven't been around forever. While media influence has increased dramatically, so have the culinary temptations. In today's supermarkets, entire aisles are dedicated to high fat, sugar-laden, chemical-sprayed, preservative-soaked, artificially colored and flavored tasty treats that are more powerfully addictive than cocaine! There are so many items and brands to choose from and eating any or all of them is perfectly legal! The proliferation of restaurants, 24-hour supermarkets, and convenience stores has increased the accessibility of every imaginable food greatly.
Advertising is rampant. The same media that places demands of physical perfection on us also cruelly entices us with pictures and descriptions of a vast variety of food delectables. Not surprisingly, many find themselves locked into a war of desperately wanting the very foods that will undermine their quests for beauty. Upon losing that battle, one way or the other, the guilt, shame, and terror can be so overwhelming for particular people that bazaar behavior patterns emerge, which we call eating disorders.
Abuse, trauma, neglect, and adversity in life places pressure on people. Not all people respond to and cope with pressure the same way. Difficult circumstances combined with other factors previously mentioned can create the right conditions to favor an eating disorder. Some people "medicate" and anesthetize themselves with activities and/or substances, including food. Others gain a much desired sense of power through rigid control of food intake, to the point of starvation. Still others find eating disorders useful for gaining attention, although usually at first they are not aware that this is what they're doing.
Poor role modeling and a lack of education, direction and discipline in the home rob children of the opportunity to develop the character and skills necessary for a healthy adulthood.
The devil is a real, yet invisible foe we must contend with, and his "friends" have daily assignments to try and trip us up. In fact, from the moment of our conception, plans are made and the first traps are laid intended for our spiritual incapacitation and eventual destruction. However, bear in mind that Satan can only tempt us because of our internal capacity to be tempted. He appeals to us through what our flesh already wants to do! (see particularly James 1:14) Or else he develops lusts in us through repetitious behaviours. Also worth noting: Satanic forces do the vast majority of their work in the human mind.
I believe that the idea of eating disorders was birthed in the heart and mind of the devil, and that for years and years and years the world has been systematically seduced into cooperating with his plan. Not for a minute do I believe that the Standard Western Diet (SWD) or the emphasis on beauty and corrupted sexuality brought to us daily by the media are an accident or a product of chance. I think people with eating disorders would be thoroughly astounded if they knew just how orchestrated their "fall" actually was.
TREATING EATING DISORDERS
Medical intervention. If the severity of the behavior has become life-threatening, or is on the verge of becoming life-threatening, medical intervention is necessary. This may mean hospitalization, both to prevent the patient from harming his/herself further and to implement measures that will stabilize the body.
Abstinence. Often it is beneficial or necessary for people with eating disorders to abstain from certain foods, people, places, behaviors, and/or thoughts to keep from "stumbling." To abstain means to voluntarily go without something. Alcoholics abstain from drinking alcohol, drug addicts abstain from taking drugs. Obviously gluttons can't abstain from eating food, but they can identify food triggers that typically lead to a binge and abstain from those foods. Compulsive exercisers can abstain from exercising more than once a day or make a firm decision not to exercise for longer than a predetermined length of time. Some people abstain from weighing themselves or looking at themselves a certain way in the mirror each morning. Any rituals connected with the disorder should be abstained from. Anorexics abstain from behaviors such as cutting food into exceptionally tiny pieces, chewing food for unnecessary lengths of time, or arranging food in certain ways on the plate. Bulimics abstain from throwing up or using laxatives, no matter how bad they've blown it with overeating. Compulsive eaters can avoid trigger foods or abstain from things like eating free samples at the supermarket or eating food off of their children's plates after meals. Particular thoughts can be abstained from by "casting down" those thoughts when they come and deliberately thinking about something else, something lovely and of "good report" (2 Cor. 10:4,5 and Phil. 4:8). In this way, abstinence plays a valuable role in breaking destructive patterns.
The word "abstain" sounds suspiciously to an addict like the word "deprivation." In fact, the world teaches us that these terms are synonymous. You can look at the idea of abstinence as "giving up" something or "letting go" of something, but I believe the Bible teaches us to view it as "throwing away" or "cutting off" something that is bad for us, which is a positive thing. Take a look at Mark 9:43-45 and Matt. 18:8,9. Jesus taught that if something causes you to sin, to stumble, to fall down—get rid of it! Even if it's something as near and dear to you as though it were a piece of your anatomy. Whatever it is, it isn't worth it. The cost is too great. Binge foods, scales, thinness, exercise regimens, relationships, ways of thinking, etc. can be pretty important to people with eating disorders. How important? So important that they are willing to continue their lives in craziness for another month, another, year, another decade? Alcoholics attempting to get their act together often spend a great deal of time initially trying to figure out how to drink moderately, like "normal" folk. Eventually they come to the sorry conclusion that all that time and effort was merely wasted, because it is an impossibility. Food addicts will make the same argument, insisting that with God's help they will beat the odds and come to a place where they can eat just one reasonable serving of a trigger food, for instance just one candy bar, one doughnut, one serving of potato chips, or whatever. Nothing is impossible with God, they say, and of course, that is true. However, isn't it possible that the food that is being clung to has been exalted to an exceedingly great position of importance? Why devote months or years to realizing the "miracle of moderation" when the offending food item(s) can be cut off today and the walk in freedom begun right now? It's only food!
Former alcoholics will tell you that when they first quit drinking they thought they were going to die. Their craving for alcohol was "larger than life" for a time. But eventually, those intense feelings of deprivation subsided, until they vanished altogether. When you "throw something away" that is bad for you, at first it hurts and leaves a hole, when it's been a pervasive presence in your life. But hallelujah, that hole closes in and the hurt heals after a season—just stand firm and trust God. Complete, feeling-good freedom is on the other side. The Bible says this in a passage concerning resisting the temptations of the devil: And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast (1 Pet 5.10)
Establish a support system. Let people help. Some people with eating disorders can be completely indiscriminate in their selection of confidantes while others find trusting difficult or uncomfortable and prefer isolation. God did not create us to be islands, and He often uses others to teach us, guide us, and love us with His love. Even so, support persons should be thoughtfully chosen. One golden rule is to refrain from hanging out with negative, defeated people.
A support system should/can include a pastor and/or counselor, close friends, loving and relatively healthy family members, or a support group. People in the support system should be let in on the good as well as the bad, the failures as well as the successes. In this way, the person recovering from an eating disorder opens himself to needed accountability, correction, encouragement, prayer, and celebration.
Blow your own cover. For example, I told my husband that if he started noticing me looking for kind of strange reasons to go out at night (like to run an errand that could easily wait), to confront me because that was a common binge cover-up for me. It is harder to slip into eating disorder behavior if the people around are aware of the problem and knowledgeable of the warning signs. One of the reasons people with eating disorders don't confide in others is because they want to leave their options open. This amounts to planning for disaster. If a person is serious about recovering, he should make it as hard as possible for himself to return to the behavior.
Counseling. Most people who are serious about overcoming an eating disorder do not want to do it alone and express a need for support and guidance from someone who is an authority and who is able to be objective. Strong friends are helpful, and there is comfort in fellowship with others recovering from eating disorders, but counselors, due to knowledge, experience, and anointing are able to help people find out exactly what needs to be done, particularly what needs to be encouraged and what needs to be changed. There are basically two types of counseling, psychology-based and theology-based (which in this discussion means Bible-based). Some counselors attempt to blend the two.
Most, if not nearly all, people who go into the profession of counseling are loving, caring, natural helpers. They have done the best they can, based on what they themselves have learned, to prepare themselves to assist in the healing process of others. It's not the sincerity of the counselor's heart that should be the big question, it is the content of that heart--the beliefs inside.
It is my experience and opinion that psychology-based counseling is not the best option. Where psychology agrees with and supports Biblical truth, great--but it cannot be counted on to do so. Furthermore, I believe many Christian therapists fail to rightly discern the discrepancies between the Bible and psychology. It's as if when confronted with an either/or situation, most therapists feel more comfortable going along with their psychology textbooks than with the Word of God. What they learned in school is more prominent in their thinking during a counseling session than what they learned from the Spirit. Truthfully, psychology is man-centered, whereas Biblical counseling is God-centered. Most people with eating disorders have at least at some point pressed themselves to the outer limits of human wisdom and power and continued to fail.
Psychology can be helpful in its observations of human behavior and tendencies (defining the problem), but the cavernous lack presents itself when it attempts to explain where those behaviors and tendencies come from, what to do about the ones we don't want and how to establish the ones we do want. My experience with psychology-based counseling was that it had a strong tendency to shift blame for personal problems on outside circumstances and childhood events, whereas Bible-based counsel emphasizes personal responsibility. I am not aware of one instance where the Bible indicates that circumstances are EVER the cause of sin. When you can't control people or circumstances in your life, or change the fact of unhappy past events, inevitably it comes down to learning to control your self. And real self-control comes from the developed born-again spirit, not from flesh (see Gal. 5:22,23 and 2 Tim. 1:7). Psychological counseling can challenge negative or destructive thinking, and it can help people develop plans for changing behavior, but it does not have the power to change a person's nature. It cannot offer an exchange of supernatural strength for the spent energy of an exhausted human. Taken to its conclusion, it does not point people toward God, but rather away from God, because at it's very root, psychology is godless (check it out, if you don't believe me). And instead of drawing people out of themselves it tends to encourage further self-absorption and self-reliance. Psychology-based counseling should only be considered when spiritual counseling has been rejected by the person seeking counsel.
Bible-based counseling is conducted by Biblical counselors, pastors and evangelists, and knowledgable lay-people. Counselors should be seasoned and grounded in the Word of God, have a personal relationship with God and a good prayer-life, be led by the Holy Spirit, and be brimming with the love of Jesus. All counselors should be submitted to and have the blessing of their own pastor or spiritual authority. By far the best counsel I have ever received (and I've received a lot) has been from pastors, particularly my current one.
Biblical counseling lovingly confronts wrong thinking and behavior according to the light shed on the Bible by the Holy Spirit to your born-again spirit. A good Biblical counselor shares the hurting person's burden and prays with her and intercedes for her. Together they seek the "transformation" of the disordered person through the "renewing" of her mind. This is accomplished through faith and moritification of the flesh: a consistent prayer-life and constantly washing the mind with the water of the Word. If the person with the eating disorder is to become free, she must measure her own thoughts and behavior against the yardstick of the Bible, and make adjustments accordingly. The maturing "new nature" provided at the New Birth and the power of the Holy Spirit in her life makes this possible, so learning to depend on God instead of self is essential to recovery.
Although people with eating disorders often share many similarities, they are also strikingly different from each other. No one shares exactly the same path to becoming disordered nor the same path of healing. Each man's, woman's, boy's, and girl's need for change is unique, and God alone can design the perfect recovery plan. As the counselor and disordered person seek God's face in earnest, He will reveal exactly what needs to be addressed and give perfect solutions to problems. Counselors help patients with the practical aspects of recovery too, such as nutritional education, exercise options, establishing abstinence goals, developing more effective coping skills, and handling relationships in healthy, godly ways.
What about counselors who mix Christianity with psychology? Unfortunately, the church in general has sold out to psychology and it is very difficult to find a well-trained counselor who counsels from the pure Word of God. Even pastors have begun substituting psychology for the Word in their efforts to help people. The church's faith in the power and certainty of the Word to heal people has weakened tremendously.
I would understand and accept this more readily IF the Bible read like this:
His divine power has given us MOST OF THE THINGS we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by his own glory and goodness...although occasionally you may find it beneficial to consult with man's wisdom to deal with those areas that God left out. Through His glory and goodness He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that IF YOU ARE ONE OF THE LUCKY ONES you may participate in the divine nature and escape nearly all of the corruption caused by evil desires. (2 Pet 1:3-4)
Thank God the Bible doesn't really say it like that!
In my opinion, in the broad sense, adding psychology to the Word is like diluting good medicine with water (or even poison) and expecting it to work better. The Bible speaks clearly for itself:
His divine power has given us EVERYTHING we need for life and godliness THROUGH OUR KNOWLEDGE OF HIM who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Pet 1:3-4 NIV, emphasis mine)
Nevertheless, to give due credit here, there are some Christian therapists, filled with the Holy Ghost, who do combine the teachings of the Bible with the teachings of psychology and are effective to a limited degree in helping people. But do not trust a counselor just because he or she sports a Christian label. The most detrimental situations are the ones where counselors merely dress up their psychology-based practices with a hint of Christianity. These counselors may actually be born again, but they are those who "acknowledge the truth, but deny the power thereof." Have nothing to do with them! Hurting, unsuspecting, and naive people who go to these counselors for guidance are inevitably let down, and falsely suppose that it is God Himself who has failed them. They come to see the Word of God as ineffective and their situation as severely hopeless, and may unknowingly harbor a resentment against God that can trip them up spiritually for years.
Having said all that, let me also say this: God is God, and He is AWESOME; His love for you is boundless and unfathomable. He is far more interested in setting you free than giving you a hard time about your theology or method of seeking Him. He isn't saying to Himself, "Why should I help her? It serves her right to be in such a mess because she's going about everything all wrong." Although you can be severely limited in your ability to receive from God because of the beliefs you hold to, it is NOT because God desires to withhold from you; it is because through what you believe, what you think about, and what you speak you've tied His hands. Usually the main problem keeping God from setting someone free is unbelief, that is failing to completely trust Him. It is very difficult for most people to really trust God without wavering when their hearts are devoid of His Word and they are spiritually starved. But if you are standing in faith for God to set you free from an eating disorder, He is going to use any available avenue to come to your aid. And God can use anyone around you who will yield to Him for His purpose in your healing process, including unsaved people. God can and will use a psychologist, a neighbor, a person on the street corner, a book, a T.V. show, a magazine article, or whatever, if that is what His options are limited to. His biggest concern is in answering your faith-filled prayers and honoring His Word so that you can experience the greatest degree of freedom, success, and happiness possible, as you fulfill the call He has placed on your life. However, true faith that receives from God can only be birthed and endure to the point of receiving when it is based upon the revealed will of God. And keep in mind that although God has pleasure in your happiness, you were created for the sole purpose of displaying HIS glory. A built in facet of God's wisdom and mercy is that the life which glorifies Him is also a life with a high degree of fulfillment and happiness.
If someone chooses psychology-based counseling, or the combination, but still continues to develop her relationship with God and seek Him with her heart, I do believe that in spite of all the useless stuff she learns and does to try and get better, the Word of God will still heal her. It's just that it may take longer, sometimes a lot longer.
Education. Knowledge is essential to recovery. Many times, recovering anorexics, bulimics, and compulsive eaters need to broaden their focus of learning. They need to not merely hone in on how to be thin, but on how to be healthy and to live right. The disordered person should stop reading on fad diets and start researching natural foods and cooking without fat or refined sugars and flours. She should find out what pleases the Lord, because it can be counted on that whatever is pleasing to God is going to also be best for her. Warped understanding regarding how much exercise is enough exercise needs to be challenged or supported with facts, not just feelings. Reading about the eating disorder should be replaced with reading about the Solution. It's not as important to know our eating disorder as it is to know our God. People recovering from eating disorders need to educate themselves about Him to find out who He is, what He is like, what He can do for them, and what He wants from us. Especially they need to learn about how much He loves them and wants to heal them.
Develop a relationship with God. There is nothing more important to recovery than this. There is no adequate replacement for time spent in church under the teaching of a good shepherd nor for reading the Bible, praying, and praising and worshipping the Lord. A person wishing to put an eating disorder behind him would do well to meet Jesus Christ the Savior and make Him Lord of his life, if he has not already done so. Anyone who sincerely seeks God through faith in Jesus Christ and spends time in His presence getting to know Him will see results. The eating disorder cannot stay. Christians who are serious about God are being conformed a day at a time into the likeness of Jesus, and Jesus is the exact representation of God's very being. Jesus doesn't have an eating disorder, so neither will His followers! If someone specifically casts the care of their eating disorder onto Him, all the more quickly will those crazy thought and behavior patterns be annihilated and lopped off. This is good news. This is the hope and the promise found in Jesus Christ!
A good church inspires the development of a personal relationship with God that extends beyond the service and the four walls of the sanctuary. A person who is plugged into a great church will grow spiritually on the feasting of the Word and will experience increasing levels of peace and joy and all the fruit of the Spirit. If this is not the case, a person should consider both the church and his own self to determine where the adjustment is needed.
I know many of you are thinking, "But I've been a Christian a long time. I pray, I go to church, I have a relationship with God." And you are not understanding why you are not healed. One possibility has to do with Lordship. Many Christians try to "squeeze" God into their lives, not out of knowledge or conviction, but rather out of a sense of guilt and "shoulds." They never really get past the "chore" feeling of serving and worshipping God. Some other Christians pursue God, but only to the extent that they want to "fit" God into their own desires and plans, rather than fit their lives into HIS desires and plans. The problem is that neither type of Christian has given Jesus FIRST PLACE in their lives. They have attended church for years and years, maybe even since they were born. They pray--maybe even often, they read the Bible, or at least hear the Word preached in church. But they have not made Jesus their MASTER.
So what does it mean to have Jesus as your "master?" We talk about God as being our "Lord", our "Master", or even our "King." What are Christians talking about when they use those terms?
I think we often use those terms loosely, out of habit. It is what some refer to as "Christianese." A sort of language used by the majority of Christians that Christians understand. But just as with any language, the meaning of words can get muddied or even lost, to where we say things without really thinking about it and the statements become a mockery because they are a lie.
To grant Jesus--who IS God--His rightful place as Lord, Master, and King of your life means to give Him FIRST PLACE. Not second place, nor third place. Not middle place. Not even tied for first place. It is definitely not last place. It isn't something based on feelings, which change from day to day. It isn't based on what your friend or neighbor is doing. To crown Jesus KING of your life requires a conscious decision and commitment based upon knowledge and sound spiritual judgment.
A "lord" is a ruler. One who is "master" is the head and also the "expert." A "king" is the royal supreme chief of his people. Does God fill this role in your life?
When Jesus is Lord, He is the One you run to first with every question, because you know He has the answers. You value His counsel above anyone else's when facing a major decision in life, knowing that He grants wisdom abundantly to any child of His who asks and believes. When Jesus is Lord, you pray for His help whenever your weaknesses threaten to overtake you. You read His Word as if your life depended on it, because you know in fact it does, and the Bible is God's "handbook" for life. When Jesus is Lord, you make every effort to obey Him without reservation. If you accomplish nothing else in the day, you make sure that you spend time with God because it is your highest need in life. If your schedule becomes so crammed that you seem to never have time to fellowship with God the way you want to, you look for ways to streamline and don't give up until your Lord is back in first place.
Take an honest assessment of your relationship with God now. Is He in first place? It's okay to cry. I know I am always needing to work on this issue....perhaps you do too! If you aren't mindful, it is easy to let your precious fellowship with Jesus slip. And then you start running your life more or less by yourself again, and that's when trouble starts.
Let go of the past. Many people who practice eating disorders have experienced something dreadful in their past, such as sexual, physical, and/or verbal abuse, loss of a family member, chronic illness, or some other painful event or living condition. Unforgiveness and bitterness are two cousins that prevent people from healing and moving on with their lives. It is impossible for anyone to reach his full potential spiritually with unforgiveness and bitterness lodged in his heart—in fact, he will remain grossly stunted. Forgiveness not only releases the other person, but it releases the forgiver as well, for unforgiveness is bondage and it perpetuates pain even though the original cause is long removed or stopped. Bitterness is nothing more than wasted energy, since the past cannot be changed. Bitter and unforgiving people are administrators of their own torment. Forgiveness is not just a feeling—it is first a decision, a decision to be obedient to God's Word. To forgive, a person often must first choose to forgive, in spite of his feelings. Later on, as he continues to practice forgiveness through prayerful and conscientious ordering of his thoughtlife and actions, the feeling of forgiveness will come and the full release and freedom will be realized. Needless to say, this is much easier said than done, and many, many people find that it cannot be done apart from the Spirit of God working in them.
Vision and expectation. So often I have heard the lamentations, "I can't imagine my life without the eating disorder," or "I've always been this way," or "I'll probably always struggle with food." I used to think these same thoughts.
"Where there is no vision, the people perish." (Proverbs 29:18 KJV) Other versions of the Bible say "cast off restraint" in place of "perish." In other words, people who have a lack of vison also fail to develop the tenacity and self-discipline necessary to make the dream happen, and the dream dies. To fully recover from the tyranny of an eating disorder, a person must first believe it is possible. The next step is to believe it will happen and that it is already happening. God has been working "behind the scenes" since the day you first cried out to him in your anguish (Ps. 34:17). In reality, when you accepted Christ as Lord, your "old man" was crucified with Him, and because of that fact, you were rendered dead to sin. Therefore, you have the ability to walk in this truth. But it must be clearly seen in your mind's eye and it must be believed, not on the basis that you already see it but because God said it. Those without faith in God are often at a loss in this respect, and even those who do have a relationship with God may discover that their actual trust in Him is weak. It is imperative that the disordered person be able to see herself recovered and to have an expectation of progress. The vision, based upon the promise and sureness of God's Word, must become more real than what is seen, heard, and felt.
Persistence. The person who really wants out of the hell of eating disorders must develop an attitude of persistence. Many of us, by the time we get really serious about seeking God as our solution, already have persisted. We've spent years trying to stop doing what we're doing. I know I was beat up and tired when I found my way to the altar. I didn't want to have to do anything, I wanted God to do it all. But it didn't go that way, so thank God, I persisted some more. Galatians 6:9 says, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." My pastor told me that the literal meaning of the word "weary" is give in to wicked and evil impulses. So let us not give into those impulses to binge, starve, over-exercise, or whatever, but let us purpose in our hearts to do what is right and good, for in time we will reap a harvest, which I believe is freedom from slavery to the sin, and beyond that to become effective servants and to fulfill God's call on our lives.
Although I can trace the beginnings of it far back into my childhood, the manifestation of my eating disorder began in December 1979 when I was 14 years old and lasted thirteen years. Around 1992, just before my first son was born, I entered a process of "recovery," as in actually getting better. Today, in 2000, I am not perfect; I still overeat sometimes, but I don't purge. My height and weight are proportionate, I'm physically fit, and I feel great. No longer do I constantly obsess about my appearance every minute of the day, nor is my self-worth measured by a scale or how little I've eaten. I am confident that as I continue to walk with my Lord, day by day, I will experience greater and greater victory, until the devil can scarcely tempt me in that area at all. Jesus is a mighty God, a mighty deliverer. I wisely place my trust in Him.
The path of a bulimic is full of pain and insecurity. In my case, it was mostly brought on by myself. My parents divorced, my dad committed suicide, and Mom remarried all before my third birthday. Unfortunately, my stepdad and I did not have a good relationship from the time I was 11 until my mid-twenties. Aside from that, I had a pretty "normal", happy childhood. My parents were very family oriented and I remember doing a lot of fun activities together. Though things were strained between Dad and me for many of those years, I felt greatly loved by my maternal grandparents and sister, and especially by my mother. Unfortunately, I was raised in a home where my mother was a Christian and my step-father was not, and the church my mother, my sister, and I attended didn't teach us properly. Church was something we did on Sunday. None of us really got to know Jesus, nor did we learn what the Christian life was all about. I didn't know that I was actually important to the Creator of the universe, the Creator of me, or that He would unequivocally take care of me if I put my trust in Him. Oh, I'm sure the words got said somewhere along the line, but I don't think the Holy Spirit was ever around to impart the Word to my heart. We left the church when I was about 16 in the midst of a church split and never found another. The pace of my downward spiral picked up speed right around then.
Satan began setting his trap for me early. By the time I was old enough to be learning to write, the earliest stages of my eating disorder were beginning to show, and I had nothing in place in my life to stop it from progressing. We were all so ignorant! My first story I proudly wrote in school was about a one-inch princess who was so beautiful that all the men in the world desired to marry her. So she divorced the man that she had and married the others and lived happily ever after. That type of fantasy wound up coloring my life for the next 18 years or so. Being beautiful was my strongest desire in life, because I wanted the security and love I'd been deceived into believing it would bring.
I was tall and skinny as a kid. My Mom was overweight, and I don't recall there being many restrictions on my eating. At holiday celebrations, I remember stuffing myself until I couldn't move, just because it was fun. My "Papa" and I used to see who could eat the most. But the next day, I was always still my skinny self, so no-one, least of all me, had any strong incentive to lay down some law when it came to eating.
When I was 3 years old, my next door neighbors' daughter, also 3, became my best friend in the whole wide world. I loved her so much, and we did everything together for years. As far as I was concerned, she was all I needed for friendship. In the 5th grade, she separated herself from me for a whole school year, and then again in 8th grade she said she didn't want to be friends anymore, and the separation lasted nearly 3 years. Those were two of the saddest, most painful experiences of my life.
I was lonely when I wasn't with my friend Jennifer. Very introverted, I spent hours by myself doing solitary things. I wasn't athletic because I was afraid of getting hurt and terrified of ridicule and failure, and I didn't really like to play outside. In school, I was extremely shy and never popular. Inwardly, I thought I had some good qualities and I believed I was a neat person, but nevertheless I always was afraid other people wouldn't like me, and believed that they didn't.
All throughout my childhood, I had a very active fantasy life. This was greatly contributed to by the fact that I began reading adult novels when I was about 9 or 10 years old, and many of them were sexually explicit. I also recall, at a very young age, finding pornographic magazines in my house. At first, I acted my fantasies out with my Barbies, but then I began writing them down as stories. They always involved an extremely attractive, sexy woman who was able to totally transform a cold and distant, or even an abusive man, by the sheer power of her beauty and love. I typically romanticized violence and dysfunctional relationships. Even though I never cast myself as the star, the woman was always an example of what I longed to be. The stories always went into incredible detail about what she looked like and the effect she had on men. Not surprisingly, by the time I reached Junior High, I wanted to wear tight, revealing clothes and my favorite color was black. Exotic make-up, long nails, and dyed blonde hair became my trademarks. People sometimes referred to me as "Barbie", and I just ate that up!
At 14 I apprehended my first real boyfriend and fell in love. I sought to spin a web around him by giving him the best sex a virgin knows how to give, although physically-speaking I enjoyed none of it myself. What I did enjoy was seeing him fall in love with me and the feeling of security I got when I was certain he was mine. Like an addict with her drug, I repeated this type of relationship again and again. Although I loved each of my boyfriends intensely, in my own sick way, each one only lasted about 2 years, and then frustration with an unhealthy relationship and the need for a new fix drove me to start all over again.
Also at 14, during my eighth grade year, I experienced my first unwanted weight gain, and I panicked. I hadn't really paid attention to my eating habits before, because it wasn't an issue for me. Other girls were using starvation as a means of controlling their weight, so I tried that. This quickly became a binge/starve cycle, which was totally ineffective. I not only never lost the original weight I'd gained, but my weight in general just kept creeping upward.
Socially, I was experiencing a lot of pain in Junior High, but managed to even convince myself it was water off my back. Because of the sophisticated way I dressed and my extreme shyness, the majority of my female peers rejected me, often with very cruel words. I was labeled stuck-up and a "slut," for instance, even before I met my first boyfriend. Fortunately I had a small group of friends who were really great to me, who respected and even looked up to me. I was often their "Dear Abby."
I started High School lonely without my Jennifer, but I still had my first sweetheart to cling to. About halfway through the year, I met a new best friend, and we joined ourselves to the party scene. I thought it was great fun. Since I was about 10 years old I had always imagined myself one day living in the "fast lane." It was painfully obvious I would never be popular, and that crowd was repulsive to me anyway, so at last I found my niche.
The summer after my freshman year, my new best friend moved away. After that I only had male friends. As soon as the new school year began, my parents found out I was drinking and smoking pot, so there was a big uproar over that. I managed to decieve them with clever talk, though, and my partying continued. People always imagined that I had no problems and that I was so well put together. I learned how to put on a happy face, but I was depressed most of the time.
Marijuana made me want to eat and sleep. My new boyfriend liked to eat when he was high too, and he seemed to enjoy feeding me. As I prepared to start my Junior year in highschool, I became so upset about my weight and binge behavior, that in a hysterical moment I finally confided in my Mom and told her I wanted to get some counseling. My parents did what they could to find the best psychologist in the area, and I saw him weekly until I left for college two years later.
I continued to get worse.
In college, where (surprise, surprise) I studied Nutrition, Health Education, and Psychology, I taught myself to purge after a binge by sticking a long eyeshadow pencil down my throat. I soon developed a pattern of driving to several stores, bakeries, and fast food joints over a period of a couple hours, eating between stops, going home and finishing what I could, and then throwing it all up. However, I wasn't very good at the throwing up part, so I also used syrup of ipecac to induce vomiting. This was an absolutely horrible activity. But I was so utterly afraid of getting fat from all the food I'd eaten, that I was usually willing to do about anything. I didn't give up the ipecac until an internal medicine specialist told me I was probably going to kill myself.
On the flip side, I did everything I could to develop myself into my sexy fantasy woman. I jokingly referred to myself as the "spandex queen," because my favorite getup was lycra (spandex) leggings, heels, and little tank tops (when I could get away with it, that is). I lived for weekends and parties and dancing, and though I usually had a boyfriend, my goal was to get as much male attention as possible without getting myself in trouble.
Those college days were dark and scary. I was like a Jekyl and Hyde: I'd spend days merely surviving, despondent and angry, wallowing in self-pity. My appearance would deteriorate for a while from all the binge/purge activity. I would become pale, puffy and bloated, and I couldn't bear to take care of myself. But then the weekend would come, or a "Hump Night" (Wednesday night) party, and somehow I would pull myself together and turn into this happy, glowing, glamour girl.
To make a long story somewhat shorter, I wound up dropping out of college in my senior year because I was so sick from bulimia. I had started out a 4.0 student but had degenerated to such a degree that at the time of my withdrawal I was failing every class. I was bingeing and purging on the average 3 times a day and was chronically depressed. In fact, depression had become such a normal state for me, I had to be extra depressed to consider it depression. Counseling wasn't working, antidepressants hadn't worked, reading self-help and insight books hadn't helped. My family and I decided it was time to get even more serious about treatment.
There was an outpatient eating disorders program at a hospital near my hometown, so I started seeing a therapist there, and I joined a support group. But I started getting into some really heavy drug use with my new boyfriend and soon began missing appointments. My drug stint lasted 2½ years, and during that time the bulimia took a back seat. I still overate from time to time, but my drug use left me too exhausted to be bothered with throwing up, and I became such a recluse it stopped being so imperative that I be thin.
When I finally met the Lord again in 1989, He set me and my drug-partner/husband free from addiction to drugs and alcohol, and I began a brand new life. At first, I was soooo happy. Boy was I in for a shocker!
The bulimia came back full force. It quickly progressed so that at times the severity of it approached that of when I dropped out of college. My weight was up and down, up and down, gaining and losing, the same 20 pounds over and over and over. I was mystified and full of terror.
Frantically, I sought help my usual way, but now I included my pastor. Nevertheless, I still leaned on psychology for answers. I read several books and tried "Christian counseling," which seemed smarter, at the time, but really left me no better off.
I worked swing shift, so during the day while my husband was in school, still in my bathrobe, I often ate all day, purged a few times, and pulled myself together in time to get to work. While I ate, I closed the drapes to hide as a way of shutting out reality. Sometimes I even imagined I was okay, as long as I didn't have to deal with the outside. But I couldn't stand to brush my teeth, shower, dress, or comb my hair, because I didn't want to have to look at or touch myself. Going to the stores to buy food dressed in sweats and looking disheveled and sick became a convenient means of self-punishment. Then, after several hours of bingeing, at the last possible moment, I reluctantly cleaned up and got dressed for work. Frequently I continued eating there (I was a grocery checker, of all things). I found it extremely difficult to look customers in the eye, or anyone for that matter, for I was so ashamed of myself. It wasn't unusual for me to continue eating all the way home, and purge again. If I didn't have a good opportunity to throw up without risk of detection, I went to bed with my distended stomach, full of despair and shame. Sometimes I wished I could just die.
Amazingly, almost no one suspected how troubled my life was. What an actress I was, huh?!
It was during those days that I frequently had fantasies of hurting myself. I would be sitting in front of the TV, or washing dishes, or whatever, and this vision of breaking my arms against the corner of a wall or the edge of the table would come to mind. One of the others was a picture of me stabbing myself over and over again in the stomach with a big butcher knife. At work I fancied myself walking down the aisles of the store, taking glass jars of things like pickles and smashing them on the floor. I hated myself so much and was so angry over my lack of self-control, I felt like I was always on the verge of exploding or spinning out somehow. Sometimes I wondered if I might snap and lose my mind. Worse yet, I thought the idea of being committed to a mental institution was wonderful, because then I wouldn't have to think for myself or take care of myself anymore. My self-confidence was completely bankrupt. And this was going on after I was back in fellowship with the Lord!
But something else was happening at the same time. I was devouring the Word of God. I loved my new church, and the messages being preached there were having a powerful impact on my life. I loved hearing, reading, and talking about God, and my husband and I went to church nearly as often as the doors were open. Much of the damage in my life was repaired, simply by the power of the Holy Spirit working in me as I continually put myself in a position to receive from God. My mind cleared and my emotions became increasingly stable. I began to get a revelation of what real beauty is, and the bleached hair, long nails, and suggestive clothing went by the wayside. It just seemed the natural way to go.
I was touched by the supernatural again in 1991, a couple months after I became pregnant with my first child. Terrified of hurting my baby with my throwing up all the time, I cried out to God to help me. Shortly after, the purging almost completely ended.
Even so, the bingeing continued. I struggled with being angry at God. I knew better, but I wasn't sure who else to blame. After all, I thought, couldn't he just "zap" me like before? Wasn't it obvious to Him that I'd done all I could do and still failed?
I had started getting serious about changing my eating habits, educating myself about nutrition and natural foods. Since I was eating very well between binges, I rarely was more than 20 pounds overweight at any given time. People were shocked to learn how upset I was about my eating in light of my "normal" weight.
But the sin of gluttony isn't about weight or fat, it's about eating too much, it's about indulgence, and lust, and selfishness. And I knew I had plenty of that going on in my life. I became convinced that my war was with my flesh and its love affair with the sin of gluttony. Not a popular notion, even in Christian circles, I found many people more than ready to give me other, more superficial excuses.
As time went on, I became suspicious of psychology. My life was testimony enough that at least in my circumstances psychology was wimpy and powerless. I knew what to do, but had no strength to do it. And that had always been the problem.
My last episode with Christian/psychological counseling was unsatisfying. My counselor prayed before and after each session, but she was unable to answer pressing questions I had about God and the teaching of the Bible. Something inside me was telling me that my problem was spiritual and demanded a spiritual solution, but I didn't know where to get it.
One day, while walking through a Christian bookstore, a book caught my eye called "PsychoBabble," by Richard Ganz. I looked at the cover and discovered it was about the Bible versus psychology, which intrigued me. I resisted buying it that day, but went back for it later. I loved the book. Something sparked in me, and my whole way of thinking about counseling and recovery began to radically change. Then I picked up a book that had been collecting dust on my shelf for a few years called "Competent to Counsel," by Jay Adams. I still haven't finished that book (it's big), but what I read initially excited me so much, and I've never been the same. Passages in the Bible began to leap off the pages to me in a way they never had before.
That brings me to the neighborhood of 1994. Since then, since I abandoned the worldly wisdom of psychology and started applying the Word of God to specifically include the eating area of my life, I have drastically changed. Today, in 2000, I walk in a lot more self-control. I eat with purpose, I exercise with purpose, I try to do everything with an awareness of God and His call on my life. Perhaps the most incredible thing is that my attitude and emotional state are not plummeted to the utter depths when I occasionally blow it with food. I know my God, and I know where I'm going. When Jesus told His disciples to get into the boat, He told them they were going to the other side. Even when a storm arose Jesus didn't falter, because He knew He and His loved ones would make it to the shore. There was no doubt in His mind, no fear. My boat is in the Lord's hand, and I know that He leads those who trust Him safely to the other side. If you will put your trust in God and let the power of Jesus into your life, you will get there too.
I could share with you the details of the many awesome insights and revelations I've received from the Lord since I began seeking Him alone with my whole heart, but I would probably have to chuck this article and just write a book! Not only that, but digging into God is something you need to do for yourself. Everyone is unique, and God will reveal to you down to the smallest intricacies exactly what you need to know about yourself and what makes you tick, and about His Word. But I will say this: developing your "inner man", absorbing and doing the Word is the key. The Bible teaches that a person "cleanses his way" by taking heed and keeping watch over himself according to the Word of God (Psalm 119:9). A couple verses later, the writer declares, "I have hidden Your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you" (Psalm 119:11). Also in Psalms, we read that God sent His Word to deliver people from the things that destroy them (vs. 107:20). The Bible is not just black and red words on white pages—no, the Word is different from any other book you can ever read. The Word of God is living and active (Heb. 4:12), it has the power to change hearts when someone believes and receives it and then acts on it.
One more thing, if your reason for quitting your disorder is to look good or to please someone else, even yourself, there's more than a good chance you will fail. That incentive was never strong enough for me, at least. Some people, by sheer willpower, do seemingly get victory over eating disorder behavior, but they maintain it at great pains and mental agony, or else that old sinful nature just finds some other way to express itself. You've heard of people trading one addiction for another? When you grow and develop you inner spiritual man, you eventually come to a place when your aim is to please God and your love for righteousness is stronger than your love for sin, and then, by the power and grace of God, you !
A Collection of Scriptures Relating to Eating Disorders.