Eating Disorders and the Power of Christ

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.

  • Jason

    Thank you for posting this. I am a Christian, a psychologist, and I have struggled with an eating disorder. I am a binge eater. I have recently started working through to the root of this and recognizing how much shame based stuff is associated with this. The work that has been coming out on shame is so important for people who struggle with eating disorders, pornography, and other “secret” sins.

    • Kim

      Jason, yes there is huge shame and secrecy and desperation and loneliness with this issue.

      I pray you can help people who come to you. I wish there was more support for this struggle.

    • Kristen Gilles

      Jason, thank you so much for what you shared. I should have mentioned in my post that in my recovery journey I’ve also experienced great relief of the burdens of shame and guilt that I carried for so long because of my eating disorder. The power of Christ not only breaks the power of sin in our lives, but He breaks the power of shame by taking our shame upon Himself and giving us a new identity–His own name, His own righteousness. I pray that His Spirit would continue the beautiful work in your life of revealing to you the all-sufficiency of Christ in freeing you and healing you completely.

  • Gloria Furman

    Kristen, your testimony of Christ’s power over eating disorders mirrors my experience in so many ways. Thank you for your boldness in sharing what he’s done for you and in you and through you to his glory.

  • Kim

    I was bulimic from high school until I met my now husband but I still struggle with body image in a very intense way. This article to me was not complete. Yes I believe we need to do the things she mentioned but I already suffer from enough shame and guilt and this article felt very condemning to me. I believe that my eating disorder stems from hurts and insecurity from the people who were supposed to support and love me. When my parents found out that I was bulimic, my dad just said, “Don’t do that it bothers your mother.”! And they ignored it unless my mom was bothered by it, then dad would say that same line again. That attitude from the people who were supposed to nurture me is a big part of why I believe I was bulimic. So I am hurt by this article in a deep way but also understand what the author is trying to say. Yes Christ is number one in my life and yes I do have idols I need to surrender and when I come to realize there is an idol I need to surrender I do that with Christ’s help. But I don’t believe that my body image is a matter of an idol it is a prison for me and it is a very overwhelming prison that threatens to over power me.

    I forgot to mention that I am now 46 years old have been married 22 years and this struggle comes and goes depending on the stresses in my life.

    • Isaac

      Hey Kim,

      Thanks for sharing your struggles. Sorry you did not feel welcomed by the article. Here is a great resource that I hope will be helpful to you. Blessings.

      • Kim

        thank you Isaac – I look forward to looking at this link soon. God Bless

    • Kristen Gilles

      Dear Kim,

      Thank you so much for your courage in sharing some of the details of your struggle with bulimia. I want you to know that I can relate completely to what you were saying about how hurt you’ve been by the insensitivity of others you were counting on to support you, and even the sins of others against you that may have triggered your struggle with bulimia. I spent several years trying to determine the source of my pain and eating disorder and I came up with several people and events that brought great pain into my life. But by God’s grace and the power of Christ in me, I’ve come to know through God’s Word that the work of Christ is not only a sufficient remedy for my sins, for my idolatry, but His work also breaks the power of others’ sins against me. I had to receive his redemption and forgiveness for my own sins, but I also needed to receive His power and help to forgive those who’ve sinned against me. God revealed to me how much I’d been forgiven and enabled me to forgive those who’ve hurt me. This made room in my heart for tremendous healing and freedom from the eating disorder. Know that the work of Christ in living a perfect life (the one none of us could live) and dying a shameful, torturous death for ALL of EVERYONE’s sins is perfectly sufficient for breaking sin’s power in your life and freeing you from the painful consequences of others’ sins against you. I pray that you will know more and more the power of Christ in you, sister!

      • Kim

        As I read your reply I realize I didn’t mention that my now husband who “rescued” me out of my eating disorder 22 years ago is verbally and emotionally abusive. So I imagine that is a big part of why I have not had better redemption from this issue.

        • Ali

          @Kim – I agree with you that this article is not complete and I am glad that you point this out for the sake of other people who may be reading and have a similar reaction.

          From the little I know about eating disorders it is clear that there are a number of causes and they are often very complex. I am sure that Kristen’s experience is valuable for some people reading this but idolatry is not the sole reason for this difficult affliction and some people will struggle with this all their lives – a bit like an alcoholic will always have a problem around alcohol perhaps?

          I have friends in their 40s who have managed their recovery since their teenage years but they are aware that they will always be vulnerable in this area. In many ways it can actually be a good thing to be aware of how fragile we are and how dependent we are for strength and courage from Jesus on a daily basis. Complete healing and liberation is our certain hope for the future even if it is not our experience in the present.

          I imagine that a full recovery is something you hope and pray for on a daily basis but if you are living in an abusive relationship then life will be very difficult for you. I do hope that you have people around you who are supportive but if not, then you are able to find people who can counsel and encourage you through this. Blessings to you sister.

  • Laura

    This has given me an interesting perspective on my own struggles with weight & body image. I have never suffered from an eating disorder per se, unless one calls overeating a disorder. Regardless, I see the root causes to be the same. It is so difficult to TRULY place this problem before God, and confess to the idolatry (in my case, food), especially when there are extenuating circumstances that brought you to this point to begin with. Thanks for the thought provoking read.

    • Kristen Gilles

      Laura, thank you so much for what you shared. I agree that it’s not always easy to come before God and place our idolatry before him, no matter how we got where we are. But I’m always encouraged when I remember the Gospel and God’s great love for sinners which compelled Him to lay down His own life for us, while we were still dead in our sins, while we were still His enemies. He put into effect a plan to save us–He sent His own Son in a human body like ours (except ours our sinful) and God destroyed sin’s control over us by giving His Son as a sacrifice for our sins. And through this sacrifice, God has made a way for us sinners to come directly, even boldly, to Him to find grace and mercy to help us in our desperate times of need. Remember this, Laura: Christ has gone before you and finished the work you could not. And He ever lives to intercede for you before our gracious Father. You can go to Him at all times with great confidence that He will not turn you away but will readily receive you. Our victory over sin is sure because of Christ’s perfect, finished work on our behalf! He empowers us to live victorious over sin!

  • James Moon

    I have one point of disagreement.

    “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.”)”

    Psychiatric medicine (at least now) does not say eating disorders are incurable. However, I do agree that only Jesus can cure THE disorder that plaques all mankind.

    • Kristen Gilles

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, James. I was writing from my own experience and the feedback I received from the “secular” realm of psychiatric medicine at the time that I was battling bulimia. I realize that the information I received at that time was not necessarily accurately reflective of the view of the entire world of psychiatric medicine, and I should have been careful to clarify this point. At the time, this outlook was really hard for me to swallow as the reality of living with an “incurable disease” i.e. eating disorder for the rest of my life was overwhelming. But my heart knew then, as it does even more so now, that God was able to heal me even if psychiatric medicine could not. I praise God that this is the reality that is found in Christ!

      • James Moon

        Thanks for the reply. Indeed praise God for what He has done in your life.

        Coincidently, I’m a student just beginning my Psych core rotation and was put on the Eating Disorders team. When I hear the stories of the young ladies, it’s quite sad. However, your story does give me a fresh perspective that did not click in my head before.

        Thanks for your sharing your story.

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  • Charity Jill

    The language we use to discuss things like this is so important, and reveals much. For some, the use of the word “idolatry” serves to put only more condemnation on the sufferer. Sometimes we heap condemnations on ourselves to try to motivate ourselves to change; but it won’t work. Condemnation will lead us to seek other, perhaps more destructive, forms of relief. It is more helpful for me to think of an eating disorder as spiritual affliction rather than spiritual disobedience; we don’t repent of them, we seek healing from them.

    • RHD

      Kristen, good article. Thank you for being open and vulnerable.

      Jill, It saddens me when people will not call sin= sin. When we call sin what it is, we get to confess, repent and change= being made more like Christ! Thats the best hope we could ever imagine. When people would rather make themselves feel better by not acknowledging the sin, its a sad, satanic trap. If i’m afflicted by something, its not necessarily my fault or choice. If I’m disobedient, then it is my fault and I GET to repent if I am in Christ. Then, Christ is my motivation in my repentance and I am able to work towards healing and obedience through Him. The only people under condemnation are those not under the cross.

  • HLP

    As someone who struggled with anorexia for seven years, I agree that the root of eating disorders is idolatry, but the medical aspect of such illnesses should not be ignored. Being underweight actually affects the way your brain operates; while you look dangerously thin to everyone around you, your brain is telling you that you need to lose weight. That is not simply idolatry, and that is what can make anorexia so difficult to recover from – it’s hard to change your mind and heart (repent) when your mind is not functioning properly. Can God heal people with anorexia? Absolutely. I know I wouldn’t have been in recovery for the last two years if it were not for God’s healing in my life. I also know, however, that God chose to heal me through months of being in the hospital, therapy, and being reintroduced to what “normal” eating looks like. Choosing to stay recovered is a choice to stay away from the idolatry of self, thinness and perceived perfection, but I think it is important to remember that beginning the process of recovery can require medical intervention, and God can work through medical intervention.

  • Cindy

    bulimia is idolatry huh? wow!

  • Diana Lovegrove

    Thank you for sharing this, Kristen. This is a subject I am sure many identify with. I went through a mercifully short period of a few months of suffering an eating disorder, where due to self-loathing and the realisation that I couldn’t attain the standard of perfection I expected of myself, I decided I didn’t deserve to eat. For me, idolatry was very much the heart of my problem. I really identify with your comment “I was very good at condemning myself before God”. I clearly see now that self-loathing and self-condemnation is rooted in pride. It is only when I admitted my inability to live the Christian life, and accept the perfect, sinless life of Christ offered on my behalf that I truly began to walk in freedom, and I am completely free from eating disorders today. Yes, the Gospel DOES have power to set us free!

  • KN

    As someone who struggled with both anorexia and bulimia for two years, I want to thank you for your courage in sharing your experience. For me, it’s not easy to talk about and I don’t very often, but I do when it seems appropriate or like it may help someone (it is, after all, God’s story, not mine), and I’m glad to share about the freedom Christ has won for me. Idolatry was definitely at the root of my eating disorders. While I wouldn’t have said so back then, looking back I can clearly see that my underlying idols were many: performance/perfectionism, pride, superiority, self-righteousness, control, attractiveness, fear of man and others’ opinions, and of course, food. I’m certainly not saying these will be true of everyone, but it was true of me.

    To those who place responsibility for eating disorders on the others who have hurt them, I want to say that I understand, and sympathize, and pray for your healing; deep hurts inflicted by others certainly started me on the path too. I grew up in a home where women were generally scorned except as sex objects, and rejection from a boyfriend I had (foolishly) very, very deeply invested my heart in began my quest to lose weight to begin with (“I’ll show him!”). However, I made my own choices, and I know I was responsible for them (to the degree that they were sin). No one forced me to binge, no one forced me to purge, no one forced me to starve myself, and no one forced me to worship my own perfectionist image I had set for myself. My heart did that all on its own.

    Another dimension to my experience was that, going through it as a Christian throughout the time, (with the bulimia especially) there was a striving for self-atonement. When I’d binge (or perceived any extra fat on my body), I felt the shame of the sin of gluttony. So I would purge to make it right, or atone for what I’d done. I still remember the breakthrough I had in prayer when the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to the fact that I was trying to do what Christ had already done: atone for my sins. He had paid for them in their entirety 2000 years ago, and there was nothing I could contribute to His sacrifice on my behalf.

    It was at that same time that I realized (how very foolish that I had known this in my head all along, but not in my heart or soul) that I was fully, completely accepted in Christ by the Father regardless of whether I ever had another boyfriend, or any man ever found me attractive.

    Also, I want to affirm what you’re saying about total deliverance being possible. The “You’ll always struggle with this to some degree” line is a flat-out lie. Maybe some do, like a thorn in the flesh, and God graciously cares for them as they carry the scars for the remainder of their days, BUT by God’s grace, I have been fully, completely delivered–10 years now. I have no temptation to fall into the patterns of anorexia or bulimia at all. Praise God for His healing. It is all Him, all of His grace.

    • Annie

      This is a beautiful and well written comment. Thank you for sharing. The Holy Spirit’s work in your life is shining through and bringing light(and hope) to all who read it.

      Thank you for sharing your experience and mature insight. Well done.

  • Charlie Johnson

    Great article with real-life experiences guiding the writing.

    The most interesting point I felt was her comment “I thought I was repenting daily” — an insightful comment speaking to the reality of false repentance, or a lack of repenting of sinful behaviors seen in many idolatries; whether eating disorders, gambling, pornography, etc.

    Thanks for the great article!

    Charlie Johnson, CPC

  • Mary Moser

    One thing I have have gleaned from my practice as a professional counselor and from comments here is that Christ’s healing comes in different ways. And I want to add a way a former client of mine was healed/delivered which is not mentioned above. She learned to appreciate and be humbled by the truth spoken to us through David in Psalm 139:14 “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

  • Laura

    This is a great article. I have been thinking a lot about our culture’s relationship with food. Yes, body image and food can both be idols. Here are some more thoughts to add to the dialogue.
    Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Hamish Sneddon

    It’s something that is so pervasive; so many people struggle with these things. A great book I’d love to flag (with no vested interest barring people dealing with it well and helping others to do so) is “A new name” by Emma Scrivener; published by IVP in the UK. I work with students, and I’ve found this already very helpful in counselling people wrestling this through. Check it out. Her blog is worth a look too, really good.

  • Kirsten

    Kristen, Is it possible for you to share the New ID curriculum? It sounds very good.

    • Kristen Gilles


      Here is the link to the New ID website which includes information about the curriculum and where courses are available, etc.

      Grace and peace to you!

  • Katy

    Kirsten, than you so much for this great article. I wrote an article on the same topic, since I have a friend that suffered from bulimia and God helped her to recover. Please have a look at