Yet eating disorders do not only affect women; about one percent of men struggle with anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating. At any given time, millions of people are battling guilt, shame, self-hatred, and roller-coaster habits associated with food.
Catherine Boyle, a Christian writer and speaker, recently shared her personal victory over the power of eating disorders, and she shared how others can also find freedom from this physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual struggle.
Q/ Tell us about the mindset of someone struggling with an eating disorder.
A/ For years I was anorexic, and for a couple years after that I was bulimic, basically, all of college. You think that you’re a failure … unless you have this mythical perfect body. It leads you to believe that you’ve failed in other areas of your life if you can’t keep your body under control.
Q/ And what triggers this?
A/ There is a huge entanglement of eating disorders and romantic relationships … but usually there is some kind of catalyst that sets the whole thing in motion. No one thing is going to make you have an eating disorder or not. … It could be really any kind of unexpected disappointment.
I remember seeing interviews with women who say, “My parents got divorced, and six months later I was all of sudden anorexic.” Or “My dad died, and then I didn’t want to eat anymore.”
A personal example of what really set mine off was when it was time for me to go away to college: My parents told me pretty much at the last possible second that [my] option was go to community college or don’t go at all. I had worked very hard and was at the top of my class and really never saw this coming.
Just a few months after finding out that I was going to have to stay at home for two more years and not really be able to pursue my dream, I was anorexic.
Q/ What is your definition of an eating disorder?
A/ When what you’re doing, what you’re not doing, or what you want to avoid doing with food is the center of your life, then it becomes an eating disorder.
If underneath everything else, what you’re thinking about is food and your weight, then you have an eating disorder, whether or not you’ve been officially diagnosed.
If you talk to doctors now, there’s even Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) as a diagnosis now, which is a kind of a catch-all if you’re not strictly anorexic—starving yourself to death—or if you’re not strictly bulimic—eating 20,000 calories and then throwing up every day—then you get lumped into this EDMOS category.
Q/ Have you found some places in the Bible that you believe speak directly or symbolically about the struggle of eating disorders?
A/ Ezekiel and Jeremiah both said that when the children of Israel put something in the center of the lives other than God, an idol, what would come from that would be famine and plague.
If you look at our times, we have a very idolatrous culture; we live in a time when adultery is even kind of celebrated. When believers are idolatrous, they are spiritually adulterous. We’ve left our first love for something else.
We have plague: one in four women have sexually transmitted diseases in their lifetimes. We have famine in our culture, spiritual famine. It’s not about head knowledge. It’s about making God’s word part of who you are.
Q/ Do you think that every woman struggles with an unhealthy body image at some time in her life?
A/ I would be shocked to find a woman who has never felt some angst about some part of her anatomy.
Q/ And that might just be, like you’re saying, an inborn tendency that’s related to sin—everything is out of balance. How do you come back to a healthy place of caring for your body in a healthy way, yet not being obsessive about it?
A/ I just have to tell you what God did for me. … People don’t want to think that there’s any choice involved in an eating disorder, but there absolutely is. We make choices every single day, and maybe you don’t choose the things that happen to you that build up to the eating disorder, but you choose your responses.
It gets really uncomfortable and kind of scary to think about not having an eating disorder when you’ve been in it long enough. I remember distinctly being anorexic and bulimic and thinking, “If I eat normally, I am just going to weigh 500 pounds,” which was crazy … but it’s just the way that you think.
God doesn’t ask us to change everything about our lives for the rest of our lives. We just have to be willing to do things differently today. Maybe it will be just one meal that you start and you actually eat something. Repenting is the first thing, to have the willingness for change.
The second thing is to restore godly standards in your life. If a person is idolatrous, and therefore, spiritually adulterous, and I do believe that these are sins that underlie an eating disorder, then … you’ve got to put back in place what God says is right and live according to those standards, or you’re not going to see yourself differently.
God’s ways are good for us. It’s not about a rule or a set of dos and don’ts. It’s about what God says is good for us. When you do start putting godly standards in place, then you do start feeling better about yourself. And you think, “Gosh, my body is worth taking care of, and I am worthy of love and respect.”
The final part is renewal, and this is what was most important for me. Romans 12:1-2 talks about how God will transform us by renewing our minds when we fill our minds with His word.
” …Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. …” (Romans 12:1-2, NIV).
This is absolutely what happened to me. … I don’t believe you can get well until you clean the inside of the cup, the spirit.
“Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?'” (Luke 11:39-40, NIV).
Q/ So the renewing part is how someone can find lasting change from the power of an eating disorder?
A/ It’s got to be the renewing of your mind. So much starts in your mind. God wants us to be in His word; fulfilling ourselves with His word ongoing because that’s the only thing we really have as a sword.
Christ used God’s word as a weapon against Satan. If we’re not storing His word in our minds, then we’re going to be defenseless against eating disorders.