When You’re Struggling With an Eating Disorder

by Mackenzie Smith

I was only 11 years old when an eating disorder sunk its claws deep into my body. Years of suppressed emotions and an exhausting need to control everything I could landed me right where I thought it never would. I remember thinking, it’s okay, I can handle this, right? It’s not that bad. But in reality, it was that bad. This was merely the beginning of a decade-long intense battle with a voice in my head that screamed I wasn’t worthy, I wasn’t beautiful, and I would never be enough. 

There are a million ways in which an eating disorder can creep in and take over. Suppressed emotional trauma, childhood neglect, parental dissatisfaction, pressure from sports, or even a snide remark from a peer on the playground at school calling out the ways your body doesn’t meet their mark—each one starting a downward spiral of intrusive thoughts that catch you off guard and slowly but surely take over your entire life. Every victim’s story is different in their own way. Unhealthy relationships with food can stem from many things: stress, grief, trauma, etc. Many times, eating disorders are an attempt to simply feel like we have something in our lives we can control. For me, I found myself believing that my body was in need of intentional altering and was not worthy of the care and nourishment I deserved. 

As someone who studies psychology and understands firsthand the cruel struggle with this mental illness, friend, I am here to remind you of what is true about who you are—truth that I wish I would have had access to when I was 11 and completely losing myself to the power of an eating disorder. I am here to tell you that you aren’t alone, this is not the end, and there is hope for you here and now. 

Claim it out loud. 

First things first: you get to be open and honest about what you’re struggling with. It is actually essential that you do so. The Bible is full of stories of people who thought their struggle was too big for God to use them, or who thought they were too far gone—yet God never fails to prove them wrong. No mess is too much for our Father to handle, and his strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). We were not meant to battle the hardships of this life alone.

There is a really beautiful passage in the Bible that reminds us that in Christ we are children of the light, and therefore, we have authority to expose darkness. In Ephesians 5:8-11 Paul writes: “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the light is found in all that is good and right and true) and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”

Expose them. Call it out. Be vulnerable and honest with a trusted individual. Just like darkness cannot infiltrate the light, lies cannot be sustained when called out into the light of the truth. When things are brought into the light, darkness loses its power to make you hide; it loses its power to isolate you. And this is the truth: you are surely not alone. 

Your body was divinely created by God.

When battling an eating disorder, believing that you are beautiful can be one of the most difficult tasks and can even be a hardship long after recovery. I think a major contributor to this is that our beauty standards have been defined by the world instead of by our Creator. If we are to understand and believe what is truly beautiful, we must listen to the voice of the Father who not only sculpted the mountains and clothed the fields with wildflowers, but also made you—his most precious creation. Let’s turn to Psalm 139:13-15. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”

Daughter, your very frame was crafted by the loving hands of the Father. He made every part of you with purposeful intent, love, and affection. More than that, in Genesis 1:27 we find that “God created them in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” You are an image-bearer of the most holy and most high King. Take heart that this truth is not meant to put pressure on you to be perfect as you walk on this earth, but to free you up to revel in the delight of the Father’s gaze on you. He is honored that you are his daughter; that you are made in his image. He loves that you are his crowning glory in creation meant to put his beauty and splendor on display. There is power in the fact that we are reflections of our God even if we have been marred with wounds and scars from this broken world. Our God is altogether beautiful, and you, friend, bear his very image. We must turn away from the impossible and highly filtered beauty standards of the world and reorient ourselves towards our Creator who defines our frame as “fearfully and wonderfully made.” 

You are in a spiritual battle, not just a physical one. 

Because a battle with an eating disorder takes a toll on our physical bodies, it is easy to forget where the root of the battle actually lies. This is spiritual warfare—the enemy is at hand. In the first half of John 10:10, Jesus tells us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” The lies you hear in your head that tell you your body isn’t beautiful, that you’re unworthy of nourishment, and that you need to engage in behaviors that harm and alter your body, are the lies and deceits of the enemy. The enemy only wants to destroy because he hates that you bear the beautiful image of the One whom he cannot overcome. But the good news is that you have a good father who wants more for you and has already claimed victory over every struggle you will face in this life. In the second half of John 10:10, Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The Father’s heart for you is not to let this eating disorder destroy you. He has so much more for you—abundantly more. 

God sees you in your struggle and he empathizes completely. We can trust this because Jesus lived life on this earth just like us. Hebrews 4:15-16 says “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and help in time of need.” Daughter, Jesus does not condemn you for having this struggle. He doesn’t blame you. He doesn’t ask you to fix it yourself. He understands the hardships of this broken world and he gently tells you to draw near to him. He is full of grace and mercy for you. Don’t fall victim to believing that you’re not a good Christian because you struggle with an eating disorder. God understands and his arms are open to embrace you. He will enter into your struggle, meet you where you are, and walk with you through this if you will let him in. 

God is a rescuer and a redeemer. There is hope. 

If you invite Jesus into your struggle, I promise he will not leave you. He is a rescuer and a redeemer. His intentions for you are good and trustworthy. This is the truth we must put on as armor in this battle daily. I believe we often think claiming this truth is a mere cop out for dealing with the real emotions that come with facing an eating disorder, more or less saying “God is good” and swallowing up the pain, never to be mentioned again. But friend, that isn’t actually what our God calls us to. He is a tender Father who promises to walk with us and protect us. Listen to these words from Isaiah 43:1-5a:

But now thus says the LORD,

     he who created you, O Jacob,

he who formed you, O Israel:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

     I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

     and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned,

     and the flame shall not consume you,

For I am the LORD your God,

     the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

I give Egypt as your ransom,

     Cush and Seba in exchange for you.

Because you are precious in my eyes,

     and honored, and I love you,

I give men in return for you,

     peoples in exchange for your life.

Fear nor for I am with you.”

That is the voice of a Father who goes with you, who meets you in the mess, who promises to shield your life. I encourage you to let him. 

Dear friend, there is hope for you. Jesus has full victory over the world, and he is coming back to make everything right for all of eternity. We will get to experience complete restoration and redemption when Jesus returns. In Revelation 21:4-5 he promises “‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Trustworthy and true, beloved—for me and for you. This means your eating disorder will be no more. This all-consuming struggle will be defeated and victory will belong to you in Jesus’ name. He is making all things new! He will defeat this enemy for you and you will never again have another negative thought about your body or question if you deserve nourishment. You will live a life void of the voice who has controlled you for too long and you will once and for all be governed and defined by the One voice who sets you free. Isaiah 61:1 says, “he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” Jesus is here to set you free from this. Take heart that he will surely do it. You have a seat at the table in heaven where you will experience a beautiful feast with your Lord who has healed your body and your mind—liberation will be yours.1

Going Deeper

These words are not a magic fix to an eating disorder. Trust me, I know it is much more complicated than that. Many times, due the physical toll these illnesses can have on your body, coordinating with health professionals such as physicians, nutritionists, and psychiatrists is vitally important. However, these words are true and good because they are from our Father who made us, loves us, and who promises to never, ever leave us (Hebrews 13:5). In the midst of great struggle, it is crucial that we turn our faces towards the One who is the author and perfecter of our faith. It is so important that we let God define our worth and use this as our sword against the schemes of this eating disorder. I am asking God to heal you and rid your mind and body of this illness. But also know that God doesn’t mark this season as useless. Even in the depths of the battle, even when recovery is not linear, even when you’ve prayed and prayed and you’re still being attacked, God is using every minute of your life and he is building a beautiful testimony of his steadfast love and faithfulness for you. I know this to be true for myself as I sit here ten years later, writing encouragement to you. Trust that you, beautiful one, were divinely created for so much more. Cling to the hope that victory is yours in Christ alone. 

Hear me when I say this: you are brave and resilient. Be kind to yourself in this struggle and remember that grace is for you, too! This week, try meditating on who God says you are by praying Psalm 139 over yourself. Start by reading this psalm out loud in conversation with the Father about yourself and how he created you. Then read it again and ask God what truth and breakthrough he might have for you in this. Finally, try meditating on one verse of this passage for a few minutes every day. Remember, his mercies are new every morning—great is his faithfulness! During this time, ask God to redefine beauty in the depths of your heart and give you eyes to see yourself and your body as someone worthy of love, care, and nourishment. 

Remember that Jesus sees you. If you haven’t told anyone about your struggle, open up and seek help. Maybe that looks like talking to your primary physician. Maybe that looks like opening up to a friend. Maybe it looks like speaking to a counselor. That does not make you weak. In fact, it means quite the opposite. There is no shame on you, beloved. There is hope for you here and now.

If you are struggling for the words to say to God, please pray this with me: 

Father, I praise you that you say I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Today, would you give me eyes to see it and believe it? God, this battle is hard and I don’t have the power or strength to heal myself. But I am confident of this: your power is made perfect in my weakness. I know I can trust you to fight for me and defend me against this illness. Lord, help me put my full trust in you and surrender my false ideas about beauty that the world has so harshly laid on me. Remind me that I am your beautiful creation and that you sing over me that I am enough. Thank you that you are a good Father who loves me and uses my story even and especially when it’s messy. Deliver me from this eating disorder and let me grasp the fullness of your delight in me today. Amen. 

A Note from the Editor

While some of you may resonate with these stories and experiences, we understand that no two stories are the same. Our enemy is cunning and knows exactly which lies to whisper in our ear to incite whatever fears or pains that may drive us deeper into an unhealthy relationship with food. The Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), and we encourage you to wield it as a sword against the lies of the enemy—but don’t do it alone. There are times when we are so weary from battling the lies of the enemy that we don’t have the strength to stand. Ecclesiastes 4:9 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.” Find friends and community who will speak God’s truth to you and over you. You are not alone in this fight. 

In closing, Please take advantage of some of the resources listed below. In his infinite wisdom, God has chosen to work through ordinary people to accomplish his eternal purposes for our good and his glory. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I mentioned Ecclesiastes 4:9 earlier; the very next verse says, “Woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Too often, we wait until we have fallen and have no one to lift us up before we seek help. God can work through organizations and resources like these to provide you with the tools and friends you need to ensure you have help when you need it. And if we can pray with you and for you, we would love to do so. You can submit your prayer request here

Resources for Disordered Eating

NEDA: Feeding Hope

The Body Positive

ANAD

The Emily Program

Other Resources for Mental Health

Organizations

HOPE International

NAMI

Blogs

Hannah Brencher

Brittany Moses

Online Counseling

Better Help

Faithful Counseling

Podcasts

The Sanctuary

The Faith & Mental Wellness Podcast

CXMH

REFERENCES

  1.  While these words bring us comfort and hope, we recognize that God provides practical help and hope on this side of heaven, too. The Emily Program is a wonderful organization. Please see “A Note from the Editor” for more resources. 

Image Credit: Emilee Carpenter

About Mackenzie Smith

Mackenzie is a graduate student pursuing her masters in clinical mental health counseling. Currently, she is living in southwest Ohio preparing to get married this summer to her fiance, Justin, and dreaming about what the Lord has in store for the future. Her biggest dream is to proclaim that true and real freedom is found in Jesus and it's yours for the taking.
Find Mackenzie Smith Here »
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