I’ve believed in Jesus Christ and His promise of eternal life since I can remember. I went to church at least three times a week, I got baptized when I was seven years old, taught Sunday school when I was old enough and tried to serve God with my life.
However, along the way, I got sucked into a mindset that I had to fit into a specific mold. With all of the commercials and advertisements—as a woman—that means that you have to have an amazing career, be really adventurous and fun, be the perfect mom, the perfect wife, and have the perfect body. But this is what the world says, not what God says.
Because of my competitive nature, I had an internal checklist and was always comparing myself to others. Deep down, I knew that I could never be perfect or be classified as the “ideal” woman in our society. I was so focused on performance, that I always felt like I was never good enough. I was riddled with anxiety and the fear of making mistakes.
I worked to become a scholar and a star basketball player and pursued a career in medicine. When I got injured and sick in college, I had to quit basketball. That was the first crack in the “perfect” shell I was pursuing to hide my flaws from myself and others.
Eating disorders don’t just come out of nowhere, there are many contributing factors. I believe that there is a lot of spiritual warfare when it comes to eating disorders. It is not just an attack on one’s physical health, but it is an attack on one’s identity.
I was used to getting a lot of exercise and eating whatever I wanted since I played basketball year-round. However, I began to find out that my body wasn’t tolerating dairy and gluten well, so I had to cut out a lot of calories from my diet. I began focusing on calories eaten and calories expended to the point where it became an obsession.
It was the perfect storm, I lost a piece of my identity as a basketball player, I was in an extremely difficult pre-medicine program at one of the most difficult universities, and my biggest stress reliever, basketball, was gone. I had to carefully choose what I could eat, so I couldn’t be sick. This started a seven-year eating disorder.
Looking back on those years, it was dark, isolating, and riddled with anxiety. Instead of basketball, the eating disorder became my way to relieve stress through the illusion of control.
Unfortunately, it caused so much more stress on my entire being than anything it relieved. I hid the behaviors and disordered thoughts from all of my friends and family. It was a dark secret I didn’t want anyone to know.
I was miserable, and I started to develop self-hatred for not having the self-control to stop. I knew it was bad for me, but I was out of control.
This “stress reliever” could have been anything though. Originally, it was basketball, but when basketball failed me, I moved to something else.
We all have things we use as distractions.
We all have things we use to seek comfort.
The biggest issue was that I was seeking something outside of God in order to heal wounds, in order to find my own glory—the “weight” that could keep me anchored in a storm— in order to prove that I was enough and to keep me grounded through all of the stress.
What is it that you have tried to fill that void in your soul?
That void—like mine—could be a feeling that you’re not enough. It might be a void of not feeling loveable, a void of feeling powerless, a void of feeling like an outsider, or avoid of feeling loneliness.
What’s interesting is the harder I tried to overcome the eating disorder, the worse it became.
I didn’t realize that I was experiencing exactly what Paul wrote about in Romans. I was trying in my own strength to heal what only God can heal. Ultimately, I wasn’t submitting to God’s way of doing things, only my own. I minimized the severity of the issue, and although I prayed to take it away, I didn’t ask anyone for help or tell anyone what I was dealing with. I didn’t have anyone holding me accountable or encouraging me to fight with the power of God within me, not my own.
Romans 6:16 (NKJV) Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?
My breakthrough came seven years later, when I finally decided to be honest with myself, to expose the weight of my sin, and to disclose what was going on to my mom. My mom has always been an amazing example of forgiveness. No matter what I have done, I can always go to her and she will forgive me with open arms and help me draw closer to God. I don’t know why I didn’t go to her sooner, but once I did, I felt an amazing weight lift off of my soul.
Once I knew my mom would hold me accountable, that was enough for the power of the spiritual warfare to start to dissipate.
Hebrews 3:12-13 (NKJV) Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
Although I didn’t depart from God in the sense that I lost my faith, I departed from Him by refusing to allow His light to illuminate my sin. I refused to see the power of it over me, and I refused to submit my maladaptive coping mechanism to God. I didn’t admit to myself or to God that I was upset with Him. I was frustrated that studying in school wasn’t easier, that I couldn’t find a husband to partner with in life, and that I couldn’t perform better overall at work. There was a part of me that was upset with God that he didn’t make things easier for me in school, residency,
Not surprisingly, Scripture specifically discusses this powerful experience.
Ephesians 5:13-14 (NKJV) But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says: “Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
Up to that point, I had been a believer walking in darkness, trying not to expose my destructive behavior to anyone, and trying to set myself free. However, I needed to humble myself, expose my sin, and let God set me free.
I was very fortunate to have overcome the eating disorder without hospitalization or intensive treatment. This is a very rare experience and most who deal with this issue do require more intensive interventions.
Anyone who struggles with distorted thoughts of his or her body—and yes, men can have this too—should seek help as soon as possible. It can be deadly, as it can cause heart arrhythmias and heart failure as well as other major health issues.
Although I stopped binging and purging after seven years, I still struggled with obsessing over calories and exercise. It wasn’t until I stopped seeking acceptance from men that this obsession improved. It’s amazing how the way we think and anything drifting from the truth of God’s Word can affect everything else in our lives.
Romans 12:1-2 became a major theme for me. I not only needed to renew my mind with God’s truth, but I needed to treat my body as God’s and not my own.
Once we recognize our vulnerabilities, we can’t just assume they are gone. We must continue to depend on God for support, maintain awareness, and focus on Jesus for continued guidance.
Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV) I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
I finally realized that my pursuit of finding a husband, being attractive enough, smart enough, athletic enough, and appealing in every way drew me on a path that led to enslavement. Acknowledging my worldly pursuit, then confessing it to God, and surrendering my desire for a husband to God really helped free me from that perfectionistic worldview. I was no longer driven by the pursuit of a husband, but I was driven by the pursuit of God.
Psalm 37:4 (NKJV) Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
This verse doesn’t mean that God grants that all your desires automatically come true, but that our desires change when we align our hearts to delight in God.
We all have coping mechanisms that draw us away from God and distract us from our relationship with Him. It is critical for us to recognize barriers that are preventing us from maximizing the life God has given us. We do this by learning more about God in Scripture, asking Him to search our hearts for sin and self-deception, as well as meeting with other believers to help us have accountability and encouragement.