The Satanic Trap of Body Image Obsession and "Exercise Bulimia"

I received the following heartcry this morning (posted with permission; my open response is below):


My name is Alexa* and I am a Mother of three. Four years ago, by God's grace, I overcame drug and alcohol addiction. I got saved and was on fire for the Lord and had a wonderful ministry to other addicted women. Now that the chemicals are not covering up the real problems, I have found that I actually have struggled with eating disorders since the age of 12. Mostly calorie restricting then binge, then exercise fanatically. I want to thank you for your work. When I ran across your blog and read your words I never felt so understood. To top it off, Christ is your focus. This excites me for freedom again. That whole sugar/white flour article really hit home. Once I start in, I can't stop. Why can't I look at food like a normal person? My husband eats when he is hungry and stops when he is full and occasionally enjoys a piece of pie or birthday cake. I have to write down all my intake and account for all my calories, fat and sugar everyday. Then I punish myself and my family by having to workout @ 20 hours a week sometimes! I also punish them by getting so depressed (about not fitting into my clothes anymore) that sometimes I just stay in bed and cry all day over it. It is self loathing. So much that I cant stand my husband to look at me when I'm in that mode. I feel ashamed and embarrassed. Wow. I didn't mean to write this much. My husband has said that I have a distorted view of my body. But it really and truly seems that one week my jeans look great on, and the next week, I'm curled up in the closet crying because I can't pull them over my rear end! Am I just imagining that? Does this sound like dis-ordered eating? Or a unhealthy view of things? Is this common? Should I seek outside help? What can I do today? I do want to continue to workout, I am a dancer and it is part of worship and praise, just not 2 and 3 hours a day. Actually the norm is an hour workout 5-6 days a week, I'd be happy with that. I'm sorry to go on, I just have never spoken to anybody about this and I'm just now realizing how much of a problem it is, so I am "hungry" for information, compassion and grace.


* Name has been changed to protect privacy

Dear "Alexa",

Thank you for reaching out and sharing your struggle with me. Yes, not only is this painful obsession common, is IS unhealthy both physically and spiritually. Obsessing over our bodies and loathing the way we look is a trap Satan uses to take our eyes off of Christ, our loving Savior and Redeemer. Alexa, God created your body and He knows exactly how it works. Just as he has a plan for your life, He has a plan for your weight and by eating in a healthful, God-honoring way, you will have the health and the strength you need to live for and serve Him. He longs for you to serve Him joyfully as a wife and mother (how will you have the energy to take care of those precious babies if you are exhausting yourself?), but first and foremost He longs for you to turn to Him with this dark obsession that is tormenting you day and night.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:28-29).

Alexa, let that promise sink deep into your wounded soul. Your Lord is a Gentle Shepherd, not a drill sergeant. He is the author of life (Acts 3:15) and the source of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3), a very present refuge in times of trouble (Psalm 9:9; 59:16). You can turn to Him with this burden as well; there is no need to be embarrassed or ashamed. He already knows all about it anyway, so why not run into His waiting arms today?

An idol of the heart is anything we want badly enough that we are willing to sin in order to get it. As Paul points out in Colossians 3:5, greed (or covetousness) is idolatry - and this one of the root sins fueling eating disorders. Wanting to be thin so badly that we are willing to destroy or damage the temple of the Holy Spirit - our bodies - is idolatry. The devil, the enemy of your soul, delights in taking you down any way he can. He has been studying God's children for a long time, and he knows exactly where our vulnerable spots are. For many of us daughters of the King, it is insecurity and preoccupation with the bodies God gave us to house our spirits. This grieves the Holy Spirit within us, and we feel conviction for this sin as well as despair at ever truly walking free from this bondage.

However, there is always forgiveness available - free and unmerited. The great news is what you already know in your heart - Jesus Christ delights in forgiving and restoring! He only bids you come to Him - not only for salvation, but for this day-by-day cleansing and renewal. You may very well be in Him and belong to the Father for eternity, but as you know, even blood-bought disciples may struggle with the sin of addiction. There is NO sin an unbeliever can commit that a believer is incapable of commiting (except for rejecting Jesus Christ). He knew this propensity of ours to sin and anticipated it, long before going to the Cross on our behalf. Alexa, Christ suffered for this sin as well. For me. For you. He didn't just die and rise again so that you could go to be with Him in heaven when you leave this earth; He also died to set you free from the power that this sin holds over you in the here and now.

Food was given for the purpose of nourishing us - it is morally neutral. The twin sins of pride and idolatry (which have given rise to this frantic obsession) have no power over you, because Christ has already set you free. You are no longer a slave to sin, if you have repented and turned to Him for salvation. However, you need to learn how to walk in that spiritual reality. You cannot walk in freedom and unbroken fellowship with Jesus if you are running and hiding....do you bring this painful scar on your soul to Him daily? Are you searching the Scriptures, in order to let Him renew your mind? (See my article here, "Renewing your Mind with the Washing of the Word"). Learn to rely on HIS strength, moment by moment, to resist the temptation of bingeing and then obsessive, unhealthy exercise...at the expense of your family.

Do you trust your Heavenly Father? Really, really trust Him? Enough to allow Him to shine His light of Truth onto this corner of your heart? Enough to let go of your control, and let Him teach you how to live for Him? This includes re-learning to eat - moderately - in a way that honors Him. Enjoying a meal with your family should be a time of fellowship and thanksgiving - not fear, restriction, or gluttony (bingeing). "If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Do not let the shame of this or past addictions keep you from the Father's arms (Luke 15). Jesus carried all your shame on the Cross, and He knows exactly how you feel. He knew about this sin before you even thought it, and made provision by redeeming you. He welcomes you back - no matter how many times you fall and need His help to get back up. Remember His words to Peter, before his denial in the Garden? "I have prayed for you... that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:32; emphasis mine). Jesus, being God, knew in advance that Simon Peter would fail, and He prayed for Him (as He does for us even now, at the right hand of the Father). And WHEN (not "if") you turn back, He is right there by your side -- forgiving, restoring, loving, and guiding.

Alexa, it was this knowledge alone that caused me to take a step of faith - eating without purging- and ultmately walk away from bulimia, that counterfeit trap of Satan. The knowledge that I was truly loved, forgiven and wanted by the very One I had rebelled against (and continue to even now, in many ways each day) motivated me to turn to Him and lay the bondage down. We are so deeply sinful and flawed that we can't even see how corrupted our hearts really are. But Jesus, the Perfect One, does. And He picks us up and loves us anyway. Only He, Who is perfect, can restore us broken and stained addicts to fellowship with Him - and other believers.

We can't do it ourselves, so don't even try...draw near to the Savior and let Him remove the blinders from your eyes and the idol from your heart. He will lead you, day by day, as you let Him renew your heart. Pray about everything - including appropriate and healthful meals (see my post on "Practical Considerations"), and replace the lengthy, frantic exercise periods with time in His presence. He will never fail you, nor let you go!

Your sister in Christ,


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