It started when I was 10. I remember pulling out my ruler and making a neat table. A row for every day, and a column for my weight. Each night before I went to bed, I stepped on the scale and recorded the number. If it was lower than the night before, I considered the day a success.
At school, I learned how to read nutrition labels and count calories. I began picking apart my reflection, how my clothes fit, and what my pictures looked like. I planned my meals—every day a little bit less—until I was drinking only water and eating only handfuls.
At first I didn’t know I had an eating disorder.
It took my sister’s hospitalization and her own self-starvation to rock me out of my stupor. In her, I saw the path I was stumbling down, and I was determined to go a different way.
I tried to “recover” on my own. While my sister was in the hospital, she was put through all kinds of helpful treatments. For a long time, I envied what she received.
But looking back, I realize I was given an even greater gift that summer. The summer my sister was first hospitalized, the summer before my parents separated, the summer before my sheltered childhood began to fall apart, was the summer I first met Jesus.
I grew up going to church only for Christmas. To me, God was about the same as Santa Claus.
That changed when my best friend asked me to come to her church’s camp. Long story short, I went from skeptical, to open, to convinced. I needed factual evidence to believe, and God gave me exactly that.
Jesus also offered me a new life. In the Bible, he describes it as a life of “abundance” (John 10:10). A life without burden (Matthew 11:28-30).
What could anorexia offer me instead? A pseudo-sense of control? A rigid routine that may have felt safe, but kept me entirely enslaved? Following Jesus meant freedom.
But to embrace this freedom, I had to let go of my idols. One of those idols was the sense of accomplishment, worth, and control I thought anorexia could give.
When God gave his people the Ten Commandments, the first thing he wanted them to know was that they cannot have any other gods before him (Exodus 20:3). Hundreds of years later, Jesus said the same thing. He told his followers that they could not serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). For Christians today, we can’t call God “God,” and continue to let anything else rule our lives.
In order to take hold of Jesus, we need to let go of everything else. For me, that meant giving up my disordered eating. It was something I went to for comfort and control. It was a master of sorts—it certainly ruled my life.
And so, to take hold of Jesus, I had to let go of my meal plan. I had to let go of my weight, counting calories, restricting certain foods, and exercising rigorously. At the very least, I had to stop putting my identity and worth in them.
Jesus makes it abundantly clear that if we want to follow him, we will need to deny ourselves by abandoning our selfish desires (Matthew 16:24). This is a healthy reminder for me, because eating disorders are incredibly self-centred. They are all about me:
- What do I eat?
- What do I weigh?
- How much did I exercise?
- How do I look?
Did you notice how many times I said “I”?
Following Jesus is the opposite of living a self-centred life. It’s about living a Christ-centred life. And ironically, when we “deny ourselves” in this way—when we let go of our idols and take hold of Jesus—that’s when we experience true freedom. That’s when we experience indescribable joy.
I knew I needed to let go of disordered eating. But that’s easier said than done. How do you let go of something that’s been ingrained in you for so long?
One biblical truth that’s helped me: God’s creation is good. In the very first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1, every time God creates something, he declares that it is good. So, when you look at your plate, full of things that God has created, you shouldn’t see a stroke for or against you. Food in and of itself is not “good” or “bad.” It is just “good.”
I can trust this truth because the God who created “good” is good himself.
Another biblical truth that helped me to let go of anorexia was realizing that why we eat is much more important than what we eat.
When I heard the phrase, “you are what you eat,” I was tempted to think that my identity and worth are measured by what I eat. That’s a lie.
Instead, Jesus taught his disciples that they could eat anything they wanted. But they had to pay attention to what came out of their mouths. Because the words people say point to their intentions, attitudes, and motivations. And those can spoil our souls.
The point is to do everything in a way that honours God. In a “manner worthy of the gospel,” as Philippians 1:27 puts it. Check your motivations, and make sure that when you’re eating, it’s in a way that nourishes your body and soul:
- Share meals with the ones you love.
- Take time to savour your food and marvel at God’s creation.
- Use meal times as an opportunity to give thanks and rejoice.
When we do these things, we can relax, knowing that it’s not about what we eat, but about why we eat. And if those reasons are good, the Bible says we can eat with “gladness” and drink “with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do” (Ecclesiastes 9:7).
The last thing I want to share is that it is important to have healthy boundaries. While we need to let go of idols to take hold of Christ, we certainly should not let go of discipline and self-control.
In fact, self-control is a result of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). If you are a growing Christian, your self-control should be getting stronger.
So how do you balance freedom and self-control? Instead of setting boundaries that are driven by some other goal, such as weight loss, set boundaries that help you draw nearer to God.
Your body is a gift from God. The Bible even describes our bodies as a “temple” for God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
So, ask yourself:
- Am I taking care of my body in a way that honours God?
- Am I giving my body the fuel it needs to do the good works Christ has set before me (Ephesians 2:10)?
- Am I eating for good reasons: to nourish myself, connect with others, show hospitality, give generously, or simply “taste and see” the goodness of God (Psalm 34:8)?
No matter what my boundaries are, at the end of the day I always come back to 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
This command is a reminder to put God at the centre of all I do. That practice has been instrumental in my recovery from disordered eating. It has helped me day by day, moment by moment, to let go of anorexia and take hold of Christ.
Whatever challenges you are facing, I encourage you to find companions for your journey. You may already know people who are going through similar things. There are also people out there who are not yet friends, but who would want to share their story with you.
I share my story because I want to help others overcome their eating disorders. If you’d like to learn more, check out HUNGRY: The Gospel for Eating Disorders. It’s about how God carried me through anorexia to freedom from disordered eating.
In it, I’ve included blog posts and stories from many others who can also be friends on this road. And I share quite a few helpful concepts from cognitive-behavioural psychology.
Most importantly, however, I’ve collected the Bible verses and theological truths that were a powerful help for me on my road to recovery, and that I hope will be a help for you too. These remain true, whatever we face in life.
Whatever struggles or idols you face, you do not have to go alone.
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