Looking Towards the Great Physician

Without a doubt, the most exciting and gratifying part of counseling is the moment when a woman finds true freedom. Often, I have found that pouring months and months and tens of thousands of words into another's life will yield no discernible fruit; other times, the most severe case will result in such complete brokenness that surrender becomes victory. Things are upside down in God's economy - as Beth Moore says, "In the Kingdom, the way up is down."

In the past few months, three of the young women I have counseled have written me excitedly sharing testimonies of deliverance. As they have found, there are no shortcuts or magic bullets - but a sincere desire and commitment to leave their chains of bulimia behind has resulted in restorations they would never have dreamed possible.

I, personally, am grateful that God allowed me to witness their transformed lives, as I really had nothing to do with it. He let me be the messenger of His love and redemption, and He was their Wonderful Counselor.

No testimony of deliverance could be more powerful than the one that came from a British woman I had counseled briefly last week. This was in my inbox:

"Bless the LORD, O my soul, and ALL that is within me BLESS His HOLY name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not ALL His benefits. Who forgives ALL your iniquities, who heals ALL your diseases, Who redeems your life from the pit. Who crowns you with STEADFAST Love and Mercy" (Psalm 103)
Thank you for your e-mail. Oh, what a FAITHFUL God we serve - I am so grateful for your prayers and encouragement - now I am able to write to you with news of AMAZING breakthrough, cleansing and freedom - the GLORY all going to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He truely has redeemed my life from the pit and crowned me with steadfast love and mercy. By His Grace I am back in a place of TOTAL SURRENDER to Him, safe in the arms of His beautiful and gentle Love, drinking from the living WATER that springs up to ETERNAL LIFE.

One day I will stop and read [my book] through completely. I am so thankful that you have written that book. It will help many people to recognise that repentance is needed from eating disorders. Oh how amazing it is when God washed us clean and removes our transgressions as far as the east is from the west. He has faithfully helped me to turn all over to Him and give Him the reigns. Is it always easy? NO. Is it the only thing I would ever want to choose? YES.

For three weeks I have been attempting to eat three healthy meals a day - even if for the evening meal that means buying healthy eating ready meals for now. Many times the temptation to make food a god again was so strong - to turn to it for comfort instead of running to the loving arms of a faithful SAVIOUR. Some nights I did fall to over-eating, and yet somehow God in His Mercy gave me strength to get up the next morning and once more look to Him and walk the narrow path....I can surely say like Joseph, "What the enemy meant for evil, God has used for good".... for it has been a weekend where I've had to trust in God by Faith as never before - and seen just how strong He is and the beauty and strength found in His sanctuary no matter what the external circumstances.

This Evening I can lift my hands once more to worship and praise Him. i am the richest person alive. We all are who know Christ Jesus as Lord. Oh how He has blessed me - not just helping me back to work and to my place in His body in the church, but also taking me on a journey everyday deeper into His heart. When it is hard I will look to Him and remember this weekend......

Nothing is too difficult for God. His HOLY WAYS are the delight of my soul. HE IS FAITHFUL and has promised to never leave or abandon His heritage. He loves us more than we could ever know. I'm so excited for when the strength in my limbs returns to be able to dance and jump in praise to God once more........I thought the enemy had won, I had totally given up, i thought there was no hope..... but it was a lie, there is always hope in Christ....ALWAYS. Even (and especially) for sinners like me. Today I stand forgiven and justified because of the price Jesus paid in His suffering and pain. What can i do, but give all my life back to Him in worship and thanks.

God is too awesome for words. His kindness truly does lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4), and He sets our feet on that solid Rock. This woman, like other daughters of the King before her, has found her strength in Christ and walked out of her self-inflicted prison. He will restore the years the locust has eaten, and is already turning their mourning into dancing!


The "Y" Chart

This is a visual I designed based on a little sketch my pastor's wife (a nouthetic counselor) drew to illustrate a similar diagram NANC uses in counseling clients.

As all battles with sin begin in the mind, an individual needs to learn how to practically "take thoughts captive to make them obedient to Christ" in order to have long-term victory over sin. All habits are formed by repetitive practice, and good habits (such as stopping destructive thoughts dead in their tracks, and deliberately choosing to replace them with God-honoring ones) are no exception. However, we must be deliberate about "putting on" the biblical answer when tempted to let our minds go down paths they shouldn't.

This principal applies whether the temptation is to become angry, to gossip, to be anxious, or to binge/purge/get drunk. Here's what the exercise looks like (click on image to see it full-size):

I printed out a few of these for the women in my Bible study, and several of them told me they found it very useful. Each time you are tempted or a thought comes into your mind that you know is not from God, try to see yourself as actually taking a decision whether to dwell on it or not. Will you take the easy way, allowing your own thoughts and emotions to dominate? Or will you choose the mind of Christ - which seems more difficult in the moment, but leads to freedom?

Ask yourself what God's Word has to say on the situation in question, and decide to react accordingly. Over time, you will develop a habit of "screening" your thoughts through the filter of the Word.


My Testimony

I wrote this almost 5 years ago, but never posted it except anonymously.

Through Him all things truly are possible. This is my story of how Jesus Christ broke the chains of a 17-year bondage to bulimia when I truly repented and turned from this idol. The same hope and freedom is available to you if you know Him as Savior and Lord.

I am currently a happy, well-adjusted married mom of four children. Although I have been a Christian since age 19, I struggled for many years to grasp what full “surrender” really meant – and that God won’t work with a 90% commitment to change. I was not always as secure as I am today in my identity in Christ. Bulimia consumed me for 17 years, and I want to relate how God broke those chains and restored my health. It is my hope that my testimony will help someone else who is struggling with this bondage.

I was raised in a fairly dysfunctional, legalistic but non-Christian church-going family. My mother was very image-conscious and appearance oriented; in her eyes, my being a chubby youngster was a sign of weakness and embarrassed her. She, my father and grandparents consistently put me down and humiliated me over my weight – especially at holidays, which were observed with calorie-laden food. I often felt alone and outcast from my own family; like I was an ugly duckling who was just not good enough to be accepted. As early as age seven, I remember praying fervently to God that He would make me thinner, so that my mother would love me more.

In junior high, I had slimmed down some through a sensible diet and exercise, as I had taken up gymnastics at an early age. Inspired by a movie about Nadia Comaneci, my diet became increasingly Spartan and my workouts more intense. I idolized Nadia; thinking she was the epitome of discipline and perfection. Years later, I found out she had hidden an eating disorder during her competitive days as well.

By the beginning of high school, I resolved to be thinner, like a "real" dancer or gymnast, as my mother said I was still overweight (at 5'5" and 130 lbs.). As the pounds and my dress size dropped, my mother could barely conceal her delight – at last, a daughter in whom she could be proud! In 10th grade, I went on a lettuce & diet coke regimen for a while; then became bulimic. My menstrual period disappeared soon afterward; and my dentist began noticing symmetrical cavities on each of my previously perfect molars. My mother’s suspicion grew. By the time my teachers and mother figured out I had bulimia, I desperately wanted to be free of this addiction but couldn't stop purging. My weight dropped at one point to just below 90 lbs. When I saw pictures of myself from this period, I was shocked and embarrassed by my emaciated appearance, but could not bring myself to keep food down. The feeling of anything in my stomach repulsed me. At the same time, my physical hunger and cravings (I suppose survival instinct kicked in at this time) would not allow me to “control” myself when confronted with the smell and sight of food.

It became a daily battle to enter and leave the school cafeteria without binging on everything in sight. One solution I used was to bring a diet shake to school and drink it in the student lounge at lunchtime in the guise of studying. Sometimes, I would take appetite suppressants to “help keep it in check”, but these pills had the unfortunate side effect of making me fall asleep in class. My exhaustion, even without diet pills, was painfully apparent to my teachers, who took turns confronting me and calling the school director. I was assigned to weekly sessions with the school guidance counselor, to whom I expertly lied, and was given a referral to see a psychiatrist.

Although I never had inpatient treatment, there were a few counselors here and there. Of course, as soon as I went to college, I convinced myself, the bondage I was
in would go away. (I was still about 90 lbs. at this point.) I still did not see the bulimia as a stronghold that was controlling me; I still believed I was in control but simply chose not to give it up. After about 2 weeks in college, the dormitory’s Resident Advisor confronted me, and I was slammed into counseling so fast my head spun. I basically had no friends, as I looked like a freak and was rejected by everyone. I remember crying out to God one night from the floor of my dorm room (my roommate had moved in with someone else,) asking why He had created me. I just wanted to die so badly; but could not bring myself to consider suicide, which I had been brought up to believe was a one-way ticket to hell. I was convinced I was on my way there anyway, but had no idea how to turn around.

After a semester of nutritional and psychological counseling, as well as group therapy, my weight was up to about 110-112 lbs., so obviously I was keeping SOME food down - but mostly it just made the purging easier to hide. The world outside my broken heart and confused head thought I was "recovered".

In September of my sophomore year, intrigued by the name, I joined a group called Campus Crusade for Christ. I had loved Jesus since childhood; the hatefulness I experienced from my religious parents and the nuns in grade school had never been able to change that. In a funny sort of way, the rejection seemed to push me CLOSER to Him, although at the same time I was a little afraid of God the Father. I was so ashamed of my eating disorder behavior; surely God was disgusted and had given up on me. How could He possibly want someone as disgusting as me around? When a young staff woman shared the Gospel with me, and I listened to the testimonies and speaking of some staff members and students, I decided to trust that God loved me unconditionally and would forgive all my sins. I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior, but it was more an intellectual acceptance of Him in my life than a total giving of my life to Him – a true surrender of my will. Deep down, I was frightened that I would never be able to completely submit this ugly secret that controlled my life to His authority. I did not tell anyone, including the woman discipling me, about my bulimia. I was still too ashamed, even to talk about or ask help from God. Often, I have thought that if I had pursued Christian counseling while in college, my battle and long road to freedom would have been shorter. At the time, however, I kept promising I would make it go away on my own. What I did not realize was that being thin had become my idol. An idol is anything in our life that we want badly enough that we are willing to sin in order to obtain it.

While I realized full well that bulimia was a sin, I did not see the root problem as idolatry – and idols must be torn down in Christ’s power.

After graduating from college, I moved to Bulgaria to work in international business. It was here that I picked up a drinking habit; a more “socially-acceptable” vice (or so I told myself.) The alcohol served for a time as anesthesia to ease the pain and shame of purging; but no number of bottles was ever enough to fill the aching emptiness inside. I also began smoking. At age 24 I got married to a wonderful man, who knew nothing about eating disorders or the fact that his American wife had had one for nearly a decade at that point. At 115-120 lbs., I had become really good at hiding it. Inside, I was still in a lot of pain, though – and my new husband would not tolerate my excessive drinking, so I no longer had that as a “crutch”. I hated myself, and naturally drifted further away from God. I had stopped going to church because I felt like a hypocrite. How could I have that close, intimate relationship with God they always talked about, with such a filthy secret? Each time I heard a Christian give his or her glowing, “happily ever after” testimony about how Jesus changed their life from the inside out, I would feel depressed and frustrated. I even began to doubt my salvation.

Soon after our wedding, we moved back to the States. I could not even stop purging during pregnancy, although thankfully the babies were all healthy and normal weight. I maintained a normal weight and no-one, even my husband, knew the dark secret I was terrified to tell. While appearing "recovered", I still could not kick the bulimia. During this time, I was so hungry spiritually; I was trying so hard to come back to God. I wanted Him in my life so badly. While I knew intellectually that He loved me, it is just so hard to receive that unconditional love when you are literally a slave to sin. Obedience may be the key to freedom, but when you feel hopeless to obey?

We attended church and many times I tried desperately to turn away from this sin, only to find myself inexplicably drawn back in. One Christmas Eve years ago, I remember sitting in the evening service – surrounded by hushed holy music and flickering candles– and felt like such a failure. I had resolved that year to quit drinking and bingeing/purging as my “birthday present” to Jesus. Needless to say, Advent had barely begun before I had given up.

One subject you will rarely hear addressed in church is that Christians can, and often do, suffer from addictions. Bulimia is a spiritual disease masquerading as a physical one. I had this insight, but it didn't stop me from binging when the uncontrollable urge kicked in. One day, I passed a new "Spirit-filled" church that went up next to a chain store that I often frequent, and noticed their sign for a Healing Room on Saturday mornings. A small ad in the newspaper for it had also caught my eye when I was flipping through, promising "Confidential prayer for physical, emotional and spiritual healing". I was so desperate; I thought what could it hurt?

One morning I walked in timidly, almost in tears; not knowing what to expect. Three very compassionate, mature Christian women put their hands on me, and prayed earnestly that God would break this bondage in my life; that I would know His forgiveness and healing; even that He would "re-wire" the chemicals in my brain to help break down this stronghold of sin. One of them told me that God longs for me to know Him better - that I knew a lot about Him, but didn't really know Him. They prayed earnestly for a while longer, and I really felt better, cleaner – not different, in that sense I didn't feel anything supernatural; but I had such a strong faith that God had heard their prayer that I resolved to try to again. I went back and received prayer several more times over the next few months.

After my first visit, I stopped drinking completely - all desire left me and I was not overly tempted. One of the women had told me that Jesus had been watching me for a long time, and had had His arm around my shoulder while I was unaware of His presence. I kept that image in my mind whenever I was tempted to seek solace in alcohol, and it worked! The warmth of that assurance of love – unconditional and unchanging – was far better and more satisfying than any “buzz” from drinking. I wish I could say that the bulimia disappeared so quickly as well, but I'd be fibbing. While I DO believe that God set me free the first time we prayed together for deliverance, as with overcoming all sin that is a stronghold, it took me a while (about 5 months) to fully walk in it. In other words, on the "high" of that first prayer session, I went several days without binge/purging. Over the course of the next few months, I would regularly go about six days on average without an episode (prior to this I had been purging once or twice on average each day).

Now, I do believe we have to co-operate with God in overcoming sin - He frees us, but not by waving a magic wand over us, which oftentimes is what we want. My desire for Him grew - for prayer, for the Bible, just for fellowship with Him. Little by little, my idol of ultimate thinness crumbled and was replaced by the joy of knowing I was a daughter of the King. Sometimes, out of habit, I'd still be tempted to binge - like if I were eating lunch just to keep going and going - and I would mentally say: “No; Lord, you know how I feel right now. You know this unhealthy temptation that threatens to overcome me. I turn to You; I am spiritually hungry; I want to spend time with You; this food will never satisfy; only Your holy presence will fill me” or something like that. Then, I would leave the kitchen, as removing one’s self physically from temptation is key, especially in the beginning stages of deliverance; and spend an hour or so in my room with my Bible and a favorite study (at the time I was doing Max Lucado's "Experiencing the Heart of Jesus".) This is not a distraction tactic - this is allowing God to help you, and fill you. Repentance and self-control (which is a fruit of the Spirit) were the ultimate keys in my finally surrendering this sin to God once and for all. Yes, there were some failures. Yes, I got discouraged sometimes. But, I never gave up (which is what Satan would have wanted) and yes; I was truly victorious through Christ who strengthens me in the end. Psalm 40 became my lifeline – I saw bulimia as the “miry pit” from which He saved me. Finally, after so many fruitless years, I was beginning to feel solid Rock under me!

Over the course of those months when I allowed God to restore me, yes, I did gain weight - about 10 lbs. - but I plateued after a couple of months and neither restricted, worked out, nor got fat. (Later, the additional pounds melted away on their own and I remain a size 4-5 to this day). When I decided I wanted to get free of the eating disorder no matter what it took, I accepted that I would gain some weight - but it was not as much as I feared. A person will not get fat from just eating as her body needs. God helped me to overcome that mindset too, once I allowed Him to renew my mind with His Word. This is where “full surrender” comes in – surrendering our preconceived notions about weight and beauty to the God Who made our bodies and knows exactly how they work. Just as we can trust His plan for every aspect of our lives, I realized I could trust Him with His plan for my weight. Now secure in my identity in Christ, I no longer need constant compliments on my figure to feel good about myself.

Another area in which I needed to allow God to heal me was in forgiving my mother. Once I was able to come to terms with what true forgiveness is, I realized that I would have to “let her go” in my heart and stop blaming her for my poor decisions. While certainly things in our past can affect and influence us, both for better and for worse, blaming another person for our sin is not biblical and will hamper spiritual growth. I needed to learn to accept personal responsibility for my actions and the years of choosing a lie over the Truth. Also, God has taught me that sometimes forgiving means repeatedly making that decision – each and every day – to keep on forgiving her, regardless of how I may be feeling. This is also an area in which I need His supernatural strength, as I am powerless to overcome my natural bitterness and resentment on my own.

In September 2004, fourteen years after trusting Christ, I made the decision to be baptized. This was a personal symbol between God and me that there was no turning back. I was finally allowing Christ to live through me, and being baptized was a joyful yet intensely personal celebration of that fact – the depth of victory over sin known only to myself and my Savior.

I thank God for the freedom He has given me! If I can take any credit for anything in my own recovery, it is for tenacity - refusing to give up, no matter how many times I fell and had to get back up and try again. I also joined a Christian Moms’ Group of women for fellowship at the church where I went for intercession. This was a great source of support in my ongoing journey – we held each other up in our faith walks, not just in serious struggles like eating disorders. I do not refer to myself as “recovered” or “recovering”, which would indicate a state I have achieved on my own; but rather as “delivered” or “healed”. I am living proof of the unending faithfulness of God. I have been able to counsel several women struggling with the same twin bondage of anorexia and bulimia that held me for so long. Through e-mail, I encourage, counsel and pray for these who are still in this pit to reach a point of full surrender, and as I study more about biblical counseling, I hope someday to write a book about freedom in Christ. The depth of your need does not intimidate God. He can heal the most shattered of lives, but you must give him all the pieces.

While it is tempting to think we can overcome this battle on our own, we cannot. God longs for us to turn to Him with each and every burden and even the darkest of secrets. A book, program or hypnotist will not heal you, but all things are possible with the God Who is on our side.

UPDATE October 2008: It has now been nearly 4 years since I wrote this testimony, and I can still testify to God’s great faithfulness. Sometimes, when I feel discouraged or defeated in another area of my life, I go back and read this to remember the valleys He has walked with me through and that there is nothing so insurmountable that my Lord cannot triumph in my sinful life. I have never relapsed, never been tempted beyond what I can bear, and never looked back at the life in bondage to food and alcohol I used to live.

However, it is tempting for someone repenting/recovering from an addiction to think “Once I overcome this sin, I will have no more problems! I will [always] live a victorious, Christian life for the Lord!” The truth is that while God heals and forgives you completely, there will always be something impeding your intimacy with Him until you are home in Heaven. Satan will not let up on you; if anything, you are more of a threat to him once you have overcome in a particularly besetting sin in your life. God is glorified by your redeemed life, but you will always have your sinful nature to contend with. Do not be discouraged in your pursuit of sanctification, and don’t ever give up.


Hills Don't Make People Bulimic

I just got back from the store, where a the cover of a popular magazine caught my eye. The headline proclaimed: Stephanie Pratt: "The Hills Made Me Bulimic".

Now....I don't know who Stephanie Pratt is, and I've never seen "The Hills". (My daughter may have heard of her). However, the fallacy of her claim is all too revealing of society's attitude towards eating disorders.

Myth # 1: Society is responsible. This is unbiblical, to put it mildly. Eating disorders are, at the end of the day, worship disorders. A bulimic or anorexic has set up an idol in her heart, which needs to be torn down in Christ's power. We are called to live in this world but not be of it - consequently, what's most important to us will reveal where our treasure is. Whether you live in Beverly Hills or Indonesia, God calls you to value what He values and define beauty biblically.

Myth # 2: Someone can be "driven" to an eating disorder. Convenient cop-out, but it falls apart under scrutiny. Most certainly, images in the media and expectations placed on us by others serve as external factors which influence us (the younger a girl is, the more susceptible she is), but ultimately we each answer for our own decisions and sinful choices (Ezekiel 18:20). A mother's scathing criticism of a chubby youngster may wound deeply, well into adulthood. Emotional abuse leaves the deepest scars of all, and we may turn to self-destructive behavior out of anger, fear of man, vanity or bitterness. But correlation does not equal causation.

Myth # 3: A person can be "made" to be anorexic or bulimic. This myth is similar to #2, and is the result of blame-shifting and the "victim" culture in which we live. There is not a single example in the Bible of a person forcing another to sin. We are all born both with a sin nature and a free will. By nature, people love darkness rather than light (John 3:19) and apart from Christ are incapable of overcoming that tendency to please the flesh.

I hope that Miss Pratt re-learns healthy eating habits, but more importantly, I hope that she will turn to Christ to restore her spiritually.

Side-note: The lower insert photo claims to be a 5'7" Stephanie down to 100 lbs. Impossible. A woman who stands 5'7" would not have breasts at 100 lbs. and her ribs, clavicle and sternum would be much more prominent. I know what 5'5" and 100 lbs. looks like, and it's a lot worse than that. Why do these magazines see the need to exaggerate? Knowingly or not, they are glorifying and sensationalizing eating disorders - making them seem "Hollywood chic". This is not an accurate picture of what bondage looks like.

Counterfeit Satisfaction - "Lusts of the Flesh"

"There’s no need to be captive for the rest of your life, if God would so move. Be hopeful and lean on him for help."

So writes David Mathis on Sovereign Grace's "Desiring God" blog. In context, he is speaking to those struggling with sexual sin, but the principle still holds for those Christians caught in the addictive cycle of eating disorders.

We fall prey to addictions because they seem to offer reward. There is some payback; some promise of instant gratification. Moreover, the specific addiction satisfies some particular lust in a way nothing else will. In "Deceptive Diagnosis: When Sin is Called Sickness", David Tyler and Kurt Grady note:

"The hook...is that the behavior gives people a gratifying sensation they are not able to get any other way. The sensation is the payoff that keeps people coming back. It helps them forget their pain and discomfort. It distracts them from the overwhelming problems and difficulties of life and helps them to feel better."

Of course, those of us who have spent any time in the pit of food addictions know how fleeting that "high" is. The Bible calls the insatiable cravings "lusts of the flesh" and repeatedly warns of their dangers. In succinct terms, the solution is summed up by Paul in Romans 8:5: "Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires."

Repeatedly both he and Peter admonish Christ-followers to stop pursuing carnal lifestyles and uncontrollable desires and to live lives worthy of their calling. To have the mind of Christ. To be alert and self-controlled.

How can we do that when it's difficult to see past the next binge we are already planning in the back of our minds? When we can't even keep up our end of a conversation without thinking about food, let alone meditate on Scripture?

First, the bad news: anorexia and bulimia are sins. At some point, we willfully chose this behavior, and we put ourselves in bondage by "offering the members of our bodies to sin" (Romans 6:13). Which leads us to the good news: God's already offered us the solution. Christ died for this sin, too. Many who have received secular counsel have been taught that they cannot "recover" from eating disorders without intensive therapy, but this is a logical fallacy. Why would God offer us solution to the sin problem - repentance - if we were unable to implement it? Would He hold us responsible for a condition we were hopeless to change?

The fact is, in ourselves we are hopeless to change our sin condition. Christ has already done it for us - if you have been born again by His Spirit, you are positionally justified before God. However, that's only half the story. By dying for you on the Cross and being raised again, He secured your victory over bulimia and every other addiction. The key is in your identity - as a child of God, sin holds no power over you. If you are in Christ, you are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). This is a present reality.

It may not seem like a concrete reality when your next craving hits. When you can't see past the vending machine, remember Whose you are. The instant gratification of a binge is a counterfeit of Satan. No "lust of the flesh" can truly satisfy as a vital relationship with the Living God can. It is on this unalterable truth that your hope stands. The first step in turning away from this sin in learning to hate it. Do you truly desire to be done with bulimia, and learn to use food in an appropriate, God-honoring way? He will help you and keep you from falling.

In the next post, we will discuss what it means to humble yourself before God and the difference between regret, remorse and biblical repentance.

Eating Disorders: The Quest for Thinness | CCEF

Eating Disorders: The Quest for Thinness | CCEF

Eating Disorders: The Quest for Thinness

by Edward Welch

In this article, Ed Welch describes how easy it is, in a weight-conscious world that also uses food for comfort, to take the small steps that lead to a full blown eating disorder. He gives a road map for dealing with this difficult problem that includes understanding the thoughts and emotions that trigger destructive eating habits and then encouraging those who struggle with food addictions to take the big step of trusting God, instead of food rules and rituals.

Do you ever wish that you could just forget about food? What started as an innocent diet has turned into a monster. You eat too little. You eat too much. You restrict. You binge. It's getting harder to cover up what you are doing. At first you tried exercise, then vomiting, then laxatives. Maybe you tried cutting too. Who would have thought that food—or the fear of it—would become the center of your life? Heroin, cocaine, and other street drugs lead to addictions. But food?

But for you food is no longer . . . just food.

You know, of course, that you are not alone; many people struggle with eating disorders. It's easy to see why. Advertisers sell their products using only one slim body type; movies show impossibly thin, surgically-enhanced heroes and heroines; high-profile athletes have body fat percentages that can only be maintained with round-the-clock workouts; food is everywhere; and more than half the U.S. is on a diet. In some countries food is nutrition. Here food is nutrition, but it also means beauty, control, comfort, guilt, shame, love, and loathing.


You began life with normal eating habits: you ate when you were hungry and didn't eat when you were full. But in a weight-conscious world, where food is used for comfort, you take small steps and “normal” gradually disappears. You want to be thin, so you become more serious about dieting. You like how food makes you feel, so you overeat and binge. Those who are close to you start noticing that food is becoming your obsession. You don't see it because your obsession has tricked you into thinking you are doing better than ever. But the truth is that your struggles with food have gained momentum, and you have become anorexic, bulimic, or both.


Anorexia is all about not eating. It is an all consuming fear of fat that leads you to starve yourself. Your fear might also lead you to try constant exercising, vomiting, and/or taking laxatives. What happens when these things don't make you feel any better? Your next step might be another form of self-punishment such as cutting. When others try to help you, it's easy for you to make them into your enemy. You don't want anyone standing between you and what you believe you need.


Bulimia is all about overeating. A lot of food eaten secretly and rapidly is its trademark. In contrast to anorexia's control, bulimia is impulsive and out-of-control. Anorexia wants control, and seems to invite pain. Bulimia feels out-of-control, and wants comfort and relief. The two seem like complete opposites, but eventually, as your struggles with eating continue, they might look almost the same (See Figure 1). If you start as an anorexic, sooner or later you might use the same weight loss strategies as someone with bulimia. If you are bulimic, you might also use the anorexic devices of self-punishment and food restriction to make up for a binge.

Figure 1: A Map of Food-related problems


How did you get into this cycle? Most people enter this cycle as a way of dealing with troubling, unwanted feelings—anger, pain, loneliness, guilt, self-loathing, and so on (see Figure 2). Without knowing what to do with your emotions, you starve them by restricting food or comfort them by binging on food. You might feel a little better temporarily, but at some point you have to eat again, or purge what you have eaten. So you break one of your many food laws. Then you feel horrible again. So you punish yourself by starving your feelings or soothing them with food, and the cycle continues. Like a hamster on a rotating wheel, you keep running, even though you aren't getting anywhere. You have a sense that there is no way out, but you distract yourself by binging, purging, or restricting. If you stop running, the hopelessness catches up to you, so you keep going, afraid to stop and afraid to think about the future. Without noticing how it happened, you've become a slave to your own food rules.

Align Left

Figure 2: A Typical Enslaving Cycle for Anorexia and Bulimia


If this comes close to describing your life, don't let hopelessness win. There is a way to break out of this cycle. It starts with you being open to the possibility that deep-down your problem is spiritual. Listen to the voices of two people who struggle with eating problems:

“Success through dieting was the key to my salvation. Success meant a perfect career, perfect control over my life, all of which depended on a perfect me, which depended on me living inside a perfect body.”

“Eating is one area of my life that no one can reach, not even God.”

Doesn't it sound as if they're describing a religion? They have laws, rituals, sacrifice, penance, idols of comfort, idols of control, and the hope of salvation. The difference is that God is not in it. This is a lifestyle that tries to manage life apart from God. Take a moment and think about what your own food rules and rituals are. How are you using your “food rules” to manage your life?

Your problem isn't new. The apostle Paul, in the book of Galatians, talks about how we are always trying to construct our own religion. When Galatians was written, people were trying to use circumcision as a way to make themselves acceptable to God, now we use different rituals, but it all comes down to the same thing—we believe we can be made right by something we do.

You might not be thinking about God at all, but deep inside you there is a desire to be “right” and “acceptable.” It's easy to substitute yourself or other people as the final judge of what it means to be right. Instead of trusting in God, you trust in yourself and in your system of food laws to make you right.

If you are thinking about God at all, you probably believe that you have to become a better person before you can have a relationship with him. You're hoping that your own laws will show you the way. Meanwhile, you are constructing a world that has no room for God. Your food rules are actually keeping God away from you. The apostle Paul explains how this works in the book of Galatians. At first glance, it might seem to you that Paul isn't talking about your struggle at all. But, as you read, replace “circumcision” and “the law” with your food rules and rituals, and you will see that he is talking about you and your struggle with food.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised [follow food rules and rituals], Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised [follow food rules and rituals] that he is obligated to obey the whole law [every food rule perfectly, never any mistakes, never any failures]. You who are trying to be justified [made right] by law [your own food rules] have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision [neither eating too much, nor eating too little] has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:1–6)

There is a way out: “by faith,” “through the Spirit,” and “faith working through love.” It is not rule keeping that saves you; it is your faith in Jesus that makes you clean, holy, and right (Romans 1:17; 8:1).

Sound easy? It is. It's rest rather than work. It's trust in Another rather than independence. But, as you probably know, trust might be the last thing you want to do. Your quest for independence is one reason you dabbled in eating problems. You know that trust means giving up your own religion where food is at the center, and you are not likely to give that up easily. The only way you could trust God is to be absolutely certain that he is trustworthy. And he is.

How do you know that? Find out for yourself by looking at what God did when he came to earth as a man. Pick up a Bible, and read a little bit every day from the book of John. Underline everything you read that shows you how trustworthy Jesus is. Notice especially how he treated people; think about why he died, and what his resurrection means for you. Jesus gave up his life for you. You can trust him with your life today. You can give up your food rules and follow him. You can, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

* * * * *

This article is adapted from the first half of the booklet, Eating Disorders: The Quest for Thinness, copyright © 2008 by Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. Used by permission of New Growth Press and may not be downloaded and/or reproduced without prior written permission of New Growth Press.

The complete booklet, Eating Disorders: The Quest for Thinness, including the section “Practical Strategies for Change” may be purchased from New Growth Press at www.newgrowthpress.com (or just click the linked title above).

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Edward Welch is a counselor and faculty member at CCEF and holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a neuro-psychology specialty from the University of Utah as well as a Master of Divinity degree from Biblical Theological Seminary. Ed has been counseling for over twenty-six years and has written many books and articles on biblical counseling, including the best selling titles: When People are Big and God is Small, Addictions: a Banquet in the Grave, Blame it on the Brain, Depression, Running Scared: Fear, Worry and the God of Rest and his newest release, a curriculum entitled Crossroads: A Step-by-Step Guide Away from Addiction. His written work and speaking ministry, which is characterized by sound biblical exposition and paired with dynamic practical application, is in great demand by today's modern church. Ed and his wife, Sheri, have two married daughters and two grandchildren. In his spare time, Ed enjoys hanging out with his wife, is the glad owner of a growing guitar collection and competes in the Master's swim event where he placed fourth in the country. Areas of interest/experience: depression and addictions.

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Martha Peace Answers a Question

In my book, I quote nouthetic counselor and author Martha Peace's response to a bulimic woman's cry for help. The quote, used with permission, is below:

Q: I have a "secret" sin that no one knows about. I control my weight by making myself throw up after I eat. I feel really foolish and embarrassed and don't want anyone to know. What do you think?

A: Making yourself throw up after you eat is what medical doctors call bulimia. Bulimia is wrong for two reasons: First, it can cause serious medical problems such as damage to your esophagus and your teeth. Second, it is a sin because overeating is gluttony, throwing up is a lack of self-control, and wanting to be thin so badly that you are willing to sin is idolatry.

It is likely that you feel guilty and embarrassed about this, but, since God "gives grace to the humble," I strongly suggest that you get help from the elders in your church. They, likely, will send you to a medical doctor for an examination and also will assign a godly, older woman in the church to disciple you and hold you accountable. Sinful eating patterns tend to be habitual and the change must not only be outward but also in your heart by what you think. God wants us to be grateful for the food we have and not to abuse our bodies. He also does not want us to eat in a gluttonous manner but by His grace to put on self-control. There is a wonderful book that I would like to recommend to you -- "Love to Eat, Hate to Eat" by Elyse Fitzpatrick (Harvest House Publishers). Elyse has done a lot of work with ladies who have eating disorders, and her book is very practical and has a high and proper view of God.** One last thing: your "secret" is not a secret to God, and He has instructed us in His Word to "bear one another's burdens" (Gals.6:2). Get help today, and do it for the Lord's sake.

She's right, of course. We will be talking more about ways God uses other people to help us in future posts.

** Note: I have linked to Fitzpatrick's book at right. I hope very soon to have my own book up there as well.

Living Up to What We've Already Attained

Six years ago, I walked out of a church where I had gone for confidential intercessory prayer. You see, I had been bulimic for more years than I had professed Christ, and I'd been both a Christian and a compulsive binge-purger for over a decade at that point.

I had decided to fully repent of this sinful addiction no matter what it took several months prior to this particular day.

It was hard. Very hard, as you probably know if you are reading this site. I gave up a lot. I would go for a week or two without a binge, then suddenly, inexplicably, snap - consuming vast amounts of pre-packaged junk food for no apparent reason, only to vomit it away immediately.

The cycle followed a predictable pattern -- numbness would precede crushing devastation. As my blood sugar plummeted, my hope of living without round-the-clock food obsession did as well. I would be depressed for days, even weeks following a purge; wondering if I could really be saved if I were still a "slave to sin", as Paul so succinctly put it.

I wanted out. I wanted Jesus more than the addiction.

(Addictions, by the way, are sins; just in case you've never been told that before. Sometimes Christian counselors forget to mention that little detail, or they relabel them "issues" or "diseases". S'okay. Jesus loves them anyway.)

So I started praying. A lot. And repenting. Several times a day. Falling down. Getting back up. Wondering if I'd ever be "recovered" without counseling. (Hint: one of God's titles is "Wonderful Counselor". Another is the "Great Physician". He came through on both counts.)

I finally found the courage to go for anonymous prayer, realizing that bulimia is a spiritual disorder first and foremost. The prayer team, a small group of very compassionate women, pleaded with God to break the addiction, to enable me to turn to Him instead of the "drug" of food, and even to re-wire the chemicals in my brain. Fourteen years after praying a Sinners Prayer, I needed to get to know God so that I could trust Him. I had never considered what the implications of being His daughter really were before.

As I walked out to the parking lot that fall morning, I felt peace for the first time in......I dunno how long. I felt hope, real hope, that things were going to be different. Immediately, I sensed the following whispered to my heart: "Live up to what you've already attained." At the time, I didn't even know where that was in the Bible (I finally found it - Philippians 3:16).

Five months later, I was completely victorious over this sin in my life. I overcame food abuse through Christ's power, not on my own. (After all, that worked so well for the first 16 years of my eating disorder). As I took thoughts and temptations captive to make them obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), He replaced them with God-honoring ones. Never have I relapsed. I am a new creation, and the same is available to every child of God.

I am in the process, God willing, of "living up to what I've already attained". More accurately, Christ has attained it for me. How can I desire to do any less, than to spend my life serving Him, and coaxing His other daughters back from the edge of the pit?

Several months ago, I completed a 17-chapter manuscript entitled "Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders". I am in the process of seeking an agent in order to get published, which, as I am essentially A Nobody of Any Importance, may be quite an adventure. If all else fails, I will self-publish and you can all download the e-book for free. I wrote the book to help other Christian women understand how they can walk away from eating disorders in Christ's power, no matter how long they've been in the pit. God doesn't charge by the hour, and His Book truly does contain all the answers we need.

This blog will explore this journey in more detail. Welcome, pull up a seat, and bring your Bible. I have been counseling women at no charge by e-mail for several years, so feel free to contact me (e-mail is on my profile page).

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." - 2 Cor. 1:3-4