I am not the only Christian who has wrestled with an eating disorder. Let me rephrase that: I’m not the only Christian who has wrestled with idolatry.
For many years I didn’t understand the idolatry at the root of my battle with bulimia and body image disorder. And so, I didn’t realize my need for the sin-slaying power of Christ in me.
In my life-long quest for perfection (what I incorrectly referred to as “excellence”) I became obsessed with my body image. I’ve always been a sturdy, athletically built gal of average weight. I was content with this reality for a brief period of my young life. Then came junior high, when everything started changing, and I became painfully aware of my imperfect figure.
But since I was an athlete and participated in nearly every sport offered, I kept my mind and body busy through the end of high school. Little did I know that my heart was already full of idolatry.
When high school ended, so did my sports career, and I was faced with the reality that unless I kept up regular exercise on my own, my body was going to become even more imperfectly shapely. It didn’t occur to me at this point that my obsession with body image was idolatrous. I began to exercise like a crazy woman, to eat very little during the day, and to binge my way through most late nights in an effort to stuff down whatever insecurities and fears were eating away at my heart.
(I should mention that from the time I was 12 years old, I served on the worship team at my church and put up a convincing front for everyone to see that I had it together and was fit for kingdom service.)
I kept up this cycle of over-exercising and overeating for three years before I tried laxatives in an effort to shed more weight. But the physical effects of the laxatives were more than I was willing to endure, so I gave up that practice before too long.
At the age of 23, I first tried to force myself to vomit after a binge. I lied to myself and anyone else growing concerned about my obsession with weight loss and food. I hid the whole thing from those closest to me by limiting my binges and purges to times when I was alone. And then I worked feverishly to hide the evidence—cleaning up whatever mess was made in the bathroom, and restocking the kitchen I’d raided.
I Need Help
After several months of this madness, it occurred to me that I might have a problem and need some help. (The world of psychiatric medicine refers to eating disorders as incurable diseases that one must learn to live with. I believed this lie for too long while just trying to “live with my disease.”)
It was two more years before I admitted that I was struggling and needed help. I had asked God for help throughout my struggle, but mostly for fear that I had lost my salvation after having surely disappointed him by my secret behavior (I still didn’t recognize it as sin). I was good at condemning myself before God.
I’d been living in New York City for two years and leading worship at a small group ministry for Christian fashion industry professionals when God connected me with two other women who’d been struggling with eating disorders. They invited me to join them in a biblically based study for those seeking freedom from eating disorders, by a ministry called New ID. This curriculum encouraged us to confess to God our pride, fear, doubts, and desires for life outside of relationship with him and all of the resultant behaviors we’d been manifesting in our lives.
I thought I’d been “repenting” daily—really I was going through ceremonial self-loathing exercises produced by my fearful heart. I also kept asking “Why?” Why was I bulimic? Why did I deserve this? Why wouldn’t (why couldn’t) God just make me stop? Why was I out of control, and fighting for control? Why wouldn’t God reveal the way out?
I hadn’t yet perceived that my deadly disease was sin. As my friends and I worked our way through God’s Word, his Spirit convicted us that we worshiped the false, never-satisfying gods of beauty, thin waistlines, and cultural acceptance (to name a few). As believers who “knew” the gospel, we were struck with our lack of awareness of the power of the gospel to save and transform us.
The more we studied God’s Word and cried out to him in repentance, the more our hearts and minds and relationships with our bodies and food began to change—we were being delivered by the sin-conquering, death-defeating resurrection power of Christ in us!
For the first time, we had hope that our eating disorders would not define us but that God would complete the work of redemption he had begun in us. Our recovery continues to this day as we trust the saving power of Christ and seek support in his body.