The daughter of loving, Christian parents, Michelle took up an interest in sports and began dieting to lose a few extra pounds. Initially, her pride was fueled by compliments and envious stares at her figure. What started out as a healthy interest became a dangerous obsession, as Michelle purged every calorie by over-training at the gym and running marathons. As others’ concern grew, she began entering – and winning – beauty pageants. Over the next several years, Michelle’s health deteriorated; her weight at 84 lbs, she blacked out while running one morning. At this point, she cried out to God – realizing she desperately needed help – and began the hard work of renewing her mind to overcome this life-dominating bondage.
I originally purchased this book for a counselee, who, like Michelle, developed “exercise addiction” as part of her anorexic behavior. As someone who had experienced this, Michelle’s angle – describing what goes on in the mind of an “exercise addict” and how to work fitness back into her life in a God-honoring way – is a unique and helpful one.
Michelle points the reader to the principles she found in Scripture at her lowest points, and as her spiritual life improved, so did her health. Immersing herself in the Bible, she was able to compile numerous passages that directly combatted lies she had believed for years; and re-found her identity in Christ. After struggling to eat her first meal in months, Michelle turned to the Word:
“Glancing at the daily reading plan outlined in my Bible, I turned to the suggested passage of Romans 8:1-17. I could hardly believe my eyes when they fell on the very first verse I read: “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” My tear-stained journal from that day reads: “Simply because I have confessed belief in His Son, God has wiped my life clean. No questions asked, no guilt-trip. He sent His Son to die so that His Spirit could live in me, and now, I can follow Him instead of calories. If I continue on this path, I am only harming myself, but living in Him will fully restore me to the girl that I used to be.”
Woven throughout Michelle’s testimony are Scriptures defining the biblical view of beauty; reminders of God’s faithfulness; and lessons learned about perfectionism (an attribute common to anorexics and bulimics, which is a contradiction of the Gospel. Perfectionism is, in essence, trusting in one’s own merit, works or abilities as a “false savior”; a means of feeling good about one’s self – rather than resting in the finished work of Christ. Michelle underscores the importance of Scripture in combatting the self-absorbed thinking behind eating disorders, and, as I did, overcame her life-threatening eating disorder without inpatient or psychiatric treatment. She demonstrates beautifully that the Great Physician is the only Healer of our hearts and souls – where the problem of sin lies.
Another good point Michelle makes in “The Look that Kills” is that pop-psychology and self-help literature does not adequately address the root cause of eating disorders, and cannot provide soul-care solutions. She points out that every book (secular or religious) she read in the early stages of her transformation blamed the media for the proliferation of eating disorders; yet as she dug deeper into the Bible, she saw that human preoccupation with beauty went back to the beginning of time.
“That was when I decided to take the self-help books back to the library. Even my resources that claimed to be “Christian” relied more on secular teachings than biblical foundations. The very problem with these books was revealed in the genre of literature and the root cause: self-help and self-esteem…..Rather than looking inside myself to discover who I was, I needed to look at who the Bible said I was. I won’t lie to you; I was discouraged at first. If you search Scripture trying to find value and worth within yourself, you will come up empty-handed every time.”
As she brings us through her years of restoration, which ultimately meant marriage and children (a future she doubted possible), Michelle beautifully pulls together encouragements and lessons God taught her along the way. Her fears and the deliberate work of renewing her mind with the Word are things any woman battling an eating disorder will relate to, and Michelle tells her story with a touching honesty and vulnerability that points all glory back to God. Her writing is empathetic and touching, and every point she makes is doctrinally-sound. She includes questions for reflection and discussion at the end of each chapter, and describes godly modifications she made to her daily life in the final chapter to assist the reader in “putting on” new disciplines to replace eating-disordered rituals. “The Look that Kills” is an excellent book to encourage women preoccupied with weight and fitness, as well as those with full-blown anorexia, turn to God and leave this slavery behind permanently.