Today I would like to cover a difficult and emotional subject: The issue of Eating Disorders; more specifically, Anorexia and its spiritual correlation. While this is not one of the issues I have had to overcome, it is still one that hits very close to home and, as a result, this post may be much longer than most.
Several years ago, I led a recovery program, and one of the precepts of the program was the separation of men from women when it came to the more personal aspects of recovery work. While I maintained overall responsibility for the program, I had a female Co-Leader to focus on the ladies while I focused on the men. Unfortunately, this caused me to not pay close enough attention to one of ladies who attended on a regular basis, but tended to remain on the periphery of the organization. In hind sight, I should have realized this was because she struggled with an Eating Disorder and all of our meetings had some form of food-related fellowship time. Unfortunately, this gender separation led me to miss her symptoms in time to take appropriate steps to get her the professional help she needed, and she ultimately starved herself to death. This really hit me hard, and is something that I still second guess myself about quite often. How did I miss the signs? Why didn’t someone tell me what was going on? Why……? The song “Courage”, by SuperChick, has been a great help to me in understanding how those dealing with Eating Disorders learn to hide their struggle from those around them.
Anorexia can be, simplistically, defined as: A serious disorder in eating behavior primarily of young women in their teens and early twenties that is characterized especially by a pathological fear of weight gain leading to faulty eating patterns, malnutrition, and usually excessive weight loss – or – an emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, while Anorexia may be more common in girls and women, boys and men have been increasingly developing eating disorders, perhaps because of growing social pressures. And, unlike my previous experience, I want to ensure I push out a warning to all concerning the dangers of Spiritual Anorexia and ensure everyone knows of the treatment/help that is readily available to all…
In general, we all share an innate desire/need for physical food. Similarly, if we are honest, we have a similar Spiritual need and, in Scripture, we see that God desires to feed and sustain us spiritually, “And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst’.” (John 6:35 NKJV)
But how did those dealing with Eating Disorders get into that situation, and why do they continue in their destructive behaviors? It usually starts with a need for control and running from pain; the pain of being unloved, of shame, of self-hate, and of abuse. They develop a lack of self-worth, an unrealistic body image, and a fear of intimacy. Eating Disorders are unique, with behaviors ranging from daily binges and excessive exercise, to starvation and vomiting. They use their bodies to create an illusion, a false sense of self-worth. Meanwhile, Satan exploits these weaknesses to drag them further into bondage and to continue these destructive behaviors through which their relationships, health, jobs, morals and values are jeopardized and they are left physically and spiritually bankrupt. “And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren’.” (Luke 22: 31 & 32)
Some people see the issue of Eating Disorders being called out in Scripture, where we are told some will eat and not be satisfied. This equates to an emotional dissatisfaction that manifests in the form of anorexia and/or bulimia (as well as compulsive overeating): “When I have cut off your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall bring back your bread by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.” (Leviticus 26:26) In a similar vein, placing such a focus on one’s outward appearance is akin to idolatry, and in Micah 6:1-14, Scripture lays out the cases against those charged with idolatry (self as an idol in this instance) and, as punishment, their food shall not nourish them: “You shall eat, but not be satisfied,” (v. 14) either because the food won’t digest or the appetite will be made insatiable.
But why do we do these things, when we should know better and, seemingly, desire not to continue down these paths? Romans 7:15-25 tells us of the war that is ongoing within us; a struggle for control over our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls; and control of self; is at the heart of both Eating Disorders and spiritual anorexia. However, there is a solution presented in this passage as well, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24 & 25)
On the spiritual end, we can tend to either extreme, we can ‘feed and feed’ on great quantities of God’s Word, only to purge it all away through disobedience and failure to act on the knowledge we had gained: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22) – “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap for he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” (Galatians 6:7 & 8)
The other extreme is a total disregard for, or even aversion to, the teachings of the Word of God. “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14) In a similar disposition are those who do not spend enough time reading the solid and unchanging Word of God; they are unable to chew it, digest it, or gain the use of the spiritual nutrients available through making this a regular practice: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)
In 1 Timothy 4:1-6, Paul warns of those who will fall away “from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (v. 1). Amongst these false teachings is the forbidding to eat certain physical foods for nourishment to the body, but we are admonished to remain in the faith and follow sound doctrine to ensure we are fed spiritually, “If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed.” (v. 6)
First, one needs to decide, “Do I WANT to get well”? Am I finally ready to give up this weakness of character and any related sin? We see this reflected in Scripture when Jesus speaks to the infirm man at the pool of Bethesda, “When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’” (John 5:6)
To find the willpower to gain recovery, we must first desire to be made well, righteous, and free of addiction(s). God will be faithful and true to help in the ensuing battle. You must provide the WILL, others will ENCOURAGE, and God provides the POWER: “For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. And this also we pray, that you may be made complete.” (2 Corinthians 13:9) – “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10) – “Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.” (1 Thessalonians 3:1-3)
May we all follow the advice of the ancient Psalmist, who wrote, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” (Psalm 34:8)
Taking Every Thought Captive!