Want to be Free of Bulimia? Then F.L.E.E.!

As I study more deeply the theory and practice of biblical counseling, I find much material has already been produced that articulates the inner struggle bulimics deal with daily - how to fight and win against temptation. This battle is certainly not unique in any way to eating disordered individuals; all sin follows a similar pattern until, unchecked, it becomes a life-dominating problem.

In one of his books, Dr. Stuart Scott, the Associate Professor of Biblical Counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary lays out practical steps that deal with the heart-issue of sin (in this case, he's writing about lust, but you can easily see how the principle applies to bulimia and binge eating). I would like to quote part of what he says, and ask you to consider prayerfully how you may "F.L.E.E."
"The first step to overcoming your sin problem is to admit that you have one. The second thing you must do is to take full responsibility for it. No one else has caused this problem - Not God or anyone who has influenced you. Your sinful heart has chosen to take whatever opportunities you were given because your heart (without God) is utterly wicked. You must be brutally honest with yourself in order to begin on the path of righteousness."

To paraphrase the next section and make it applicable to those with food addictions, it is noted that BEFORE temptation hits again you confess your sin (in this case, bulimia) to God and any others you may have sinned against in the process. (Think of all the times you have lied to cover up your secret; stolen food; etc.) "Explain your willingness to give yourself fully to repentance (putting off your sin and putting on what is right). Then ask for forgiveness (Psalm 51:1-4; Matt. 5:23-24)."

"Daily, even several times a day, ask God to work in this area of your life and help you to put forth effort toward change (2 Corinthians 9:8)."

Dr. Scott then lists several other practical suggestions, including regular Bible study and making lists of righteous thoughts to "put on" when temptation hits in order to cultivate godliness through discipline (I hope soon to do an entire series on that subject).

Here is his helpful exhortation - At the time of temptation: (F.L.E.E. from sin to God).

1. Flee! Act quickly to run away from sin. Acknowledge your complete allegiance to God and put on loving thoughts and actions. Get out of or vary the situation immediately (2 Timothy 2:22).

2. Lean on God. Call on Him for strength to honor Him. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (Psalm 37:5; James 4:8).

3. Entertain the right thoughts (Philippians 4:8-9). Rehearse those things for which you are grateful and thankful.

4. Eagerly continue to pursue love and righteousness. Don't look back. Look to your "ways to love and serve" lists for ideas if necessary. Engage yourself in giving (Proverbs 21:21).

Finally, if you fail -

"Do not engage in panic, self-pity, or giving up! These attitudes are just what Satan is hoping for, but this is not acceptable to God because it is not in keeping with true repentance, and it will not get you anywhere! Get up and get back on the path to victory if you are still serious about repentance. You probably will not be flawless in putting off old habits. It takes time to change. It is a serious matter to choose to sin, but all is not lost if you return to a righteous path and refuse to give up (Proverbs 24:16)." 1

Big, fat "Amen". All of the points he makes above (again, in context he is talking about sexual lust, but clearly they are equally applicable to ALL "lusts of the flesh") proved true for me while I was repenting of my 2-decade battle with bulimia.

Let me know if you are at all helped or blessed by this.

1 All quotes taken from "The Exemplary Husband" by Dr. Stuart Scott, Focus Publishing, Bemidji, MN (c) 2002. Excerpted from pp. 292; 294; 296.


Why Eating Disorder "Support Groups" Don't Help

(Note: It occurred to me after posting that this entry could potentially confuse and cause misunderstanding. To clarify: there ARE some truly biblically-grounded groups which keep Christ at the center, where counselees come and desire to change. Often, the facilitator is a Christian counselor, but not always. The point is, where groups are Christ-centered and the biblical model of change is followed, lives can be transformed. I've seen it work, although not often. As such, these groups technically should NOT be labelling themselves "support groups", but a more accurate title would be "growth groups" or "biblical counseling groups". There are even a few such groups online, although most online forums and bulletin boards are rife with bad theology and fall into the unbiblical "support" trap where little more than "sharing" is encouraged. Heleen's Facebook group, "Women Struggling with Food", is excellent; as is Setting Captives Free.

Remember, if it isn't about being transformed into the image of Christ, it isn't grounded in the Word!!)

"Support groups" don't help because "support groups", as such, are not biblical. In fact, "supporting" someone who is in sin is the least loving thing you can do.

Let that sink in a moment.

We are called as fellow servants of Christ to love, encourage, exhort, instruct, edify, build up and correct one another in the Body, using the Word of God as a plumbline. Galatians 6:1 is an excellent summary verse for how we are to help fellow Christians caught in addictions: "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted." (emphasis mine).

Restoration implies change - biblical change. Sometimes this is forgotten, but change is always the goal of counseling - change in the direction of Christ-likeness. The last thing we want to do is support one another in a sinful lifestyle, if we love one another and love God. We should constantly be "spurring one another on to love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24).

Besides the fact that "support groups" (both secular and Christian) breed complaining and gossip about third parties, turning to non-change-oriented "support" systems (in expectation that other participants will either vindicate and coddle one's sin of choice) is contrary to what the Bible teaches. I have always had misgivings about such groups, but in studying biblical counseling and theology it has become even more clear how much damage such groups can actually do spiritually. Here is an excerpt from Jay Adams' "The Christian Counselor's Manual" that is germane to the subject of "support":

"First, Christian counselors must never support sinful behavior. (Contrary to some protestations, psychotherapists do define acceptance in ways that indicate approval of sinful behavior. Cf. the following: "His attitude is respectful, accepting, nonevaluative, noncondemning, noncriticizing...) If a counselee has failed to handle a problem God's way, what (s)he needs is not support for his faulty responses (or non-responses), but rather nouthetic confrontation. In nouthetic confrontation the counselor points out the biblical principals and through kindly, concerned conference seeks to bring the counselee to repentance, faith, and hope. It aims at change. Whenever the Spirit so blesses His Word, the counselee may then not only abandon his faulty and counter-productive methods of handling life's problems, but also turn to God's solutions instead. Whatever else a counselor does, at all costs he must avoid every suggestion that he is lending support to ways of handling life that do not originate with God. He simply may not by support "reinforce existing defenses," if these are contrary to scriptural injunctions.

Secondly, support is harmful in that it not only acknowledges but also approves of the failure of the counselee to handle his problems. Offering support suggests that there are no better answers to the counselee's problems than those which he himself has discovered even though they may be manifestly unsuccesful. Such a realization probably was what led him to seek help. But, in short, support is not help. No help is extended. Indeed, support is offered in the place of help. It is an alternative to help. Because this is so, the Christian must recognize that support offered instead of direction from the Word of God represents Christ as a helpless Savior who has no better solutions than the counselee to life's problems.

Thirdly, there is no evidence in the Scriptures that a minister of the Word should stand by passively "being" but neither doing nor saying. Can you picture a passive Savior or a passive Apostle Paul?"
-- Jay Adams, "The Christian Counselor's Manual", pp. 156-157.

As a pastor I knew once said, "often, people come to counseling, but they don't really want help - they just want someone to listen and feel sorry for them." Being with others (fellowshipping) and "sharing" is not wrong in and of itself; we were called to bear one another's burdens. However, it should not (and must not) stop there. The answer lies in the Gospel -- not just for salvation, but for defeating the power of sin in our lives. This is as true for the bulimic or anorexic as it is for the porn star or drug addict. Jesus has provided the answer, but if we do not point ourselves and other struggling Christians TO that answer contained in His Word, we will stay stuck in a rut of defeat.

If you have an eating disorder and want to change, don't seek out "support" - it will help you stay where you are. Seek out accountability and godly counsel, and seek by God's grace and strength to be transformed!


The Role of Hope in Counseling Eating Disorders

Actually, the title of this post is misleading. Hope is critically important in counseling, PERIOD. However, since this is a blog about redemption from eating disorders, for my purposes that is what we're considering.

In the biblical counseling course I am currently taking, the point is made that counselees will often say that they have prayed about the problem (read: sin), but that is all they have done. Their general hopelessness comes from the fact that nothing in their situation has changed; they are still enslaved; from all appearances, God has not moved. Does He not see or care? From their vantage point, prayer must be ineffectual. This often leads to hopelessness.

The problem with this common scenario, of course, is not prayer. Of course we should be praying (about everything), but that is only the first step. We should not stop there. The Bible gives decisive instructions on what we are to do in order to address our predicament the way God intends. Explicit, biblical instruction from the counselor, along with specific homework assignments, are often the first pro-active thing a Christian addict may have been given. This kindles hope that, indeed, change is possible.

It is a given that the goal of biblical counseling is always change - for the counselee to become progressively more conformed to the image of Christ. The Scriptural call to change is one that few anorexics or bulimics actually believe they are capable of anymore (especially if they have been steeped in the empty philosophy of "self-help" groups, which are usually nothing more than pity parties). Often, I hear from bulimic ladies, "I can't stop. I've been this way for too long. It's part of who I am. I can't change." The correct (read: biblical) response to this mindset is, of course, "God has commanded you to stop; therefore you can change (Phil. 4:13); in His strength, by His power and with His wisdom." Then I might point out specific passages that speak of "putting off" lust, pride, gluttony, drunkenness, etc.

Speaking about a problem from God's Word makes you solution oriented; not problem oriented. That is why I do not discuss food at length or ask my counselees to keep food journals. Such practices put the focus on the problem, not where it belongs (on Christ, and learning to obey Him in all areas). God has solutions to all problems. That fact alone should give all believers in the pit of an eating disorder great hope.

As Jay Adams put it succinctly, "A counselee needs to hear you talk the language of hope from the Bible". Amen to that.