With the following excerpt from my book, Hope, Help and Healing for Eating Disorders: A Whole-Person Approach to Anorexia, Bulimia and Overeating, I share the story of a woman who struggled with an eating disorder for years. It is my hope that, in support of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Karen’s story will inspire you to love yourself from the inside out. Though protecting the health of your body is critical, so is protecting the health of your spirit.
“After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church,” the pastor said, quoting Ephesians 5:29.
At this point in the sermon, Karen stopped listening. The lesson continued, but she traveled off into a swirling eddy of memories and thought triggered by that passage.
After all, no one ever hated his own body …
Not hating your body was stated as a simple aside, as if the concept itself were a given. But it wasn’t a given to Karen. Even now, she fought to remember that God expected her to love her body.
Her body. She was expected to love her body. This verse wasn’t talking about her mind or her soul or her intellect. It specifically said “body” — her flesh, her bones, her hair and teeth. Her legs and arms. Even her breasts, her hips, her thighs.
There was a time in her life when the thought of loving her body had been as foreign to her as grace. For years, Karen hated her body with an active, punishing hate accompanied by action. She hated how she looked. She hated who she was. She hated who others wanted her to be. That hatred fueled the need to deprive her body of any sort of compassion.
After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it …
For several years, Karen had chosen not to feed or care for her body. Instead, she starved it into submission. With an iron will she resisted its attempts at self-preservation. The more she hungered, the less she ate. When she subjugated hunger, she took on thirst. Every bite, every sip, was done with elaborate calculation and extreme prejudice. She resented her body and its needs. It felt unclean to her. Starvation was pristine — no consumption, no elimination.
In Karen’s mid-twenties, her anorexia turned into bulimia. No longer able to beat her hunger and thirst into submission, she indulged it beyond measure. Oh, Karen fed her body — but only for a little while. Until she purged and felt clean again.
All through this time, Karen had loved God. But often she also feared him and felt distant from him. Yet she clung to the promise of his love, even as she struggled with loving herself. Slowly she was awakening to the thought of actually caring for herself, instead of only caring about herself.
Karen was striving to know God and to trust his expectations.
A CHANGE IN FOCUS
Up to this point, your eating disorder has centered your focus on your outside appearance. You have focused on your desire to be thin. As such, your life has revolved around diets and weight. But inside is where you really live. The body is just a shell — a perishable one, at that — which God full intends to replace.
It is your inside, your spirit, that lasts forever. And this obsession with controlling the body is imprisoning your spirit.
The terrible irony of an eating disorder is that damage being done to the inside, in the name of the outside, will eventually migrate to the outside. Healing comes when you decide to refocus your efforts from diets and weight (the outside) to nutrition and support for your body (the inside). You need to mentally go from food as friend, or food as fat, to food as nutrition. It can be extremely difficult to make this mental jump on your own. You may need to start with a spiritual refocusing.
Self-hate argues against the truth of God’s love for you and the great value you have. It blinds you to an awareness of the beauty of God’s creation that lies uniquely in you. The negative inner message of self-hate deafens your ability to hear God’s voice singing over you as a precious, valued human being. You can decide to stop listening to your self-hate and decide to hear the truth of God’s love for you.