Disordered Eating in the Church | CBE International

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Disordered Eating in the Church

Anorexia,

Drop-dead beauties

 An 18-year old, 5'8" famous Brazilian runway model died recently of systemic infection due to her anorexic state. She weighed only 88 pounds. Her problem? She sought to be the epitome of beauty—according to the tastes prevalent in fashion circles.

A generation earlier, singer Karen Carpenter died of complications from anorexia. Deciding she was too chubby, she dropped her weight from 140 to 80 pounds and then collapsed during a concert singing "On Top of the World." She received treatment but, at the age of 32, she died of a cardiac arrest caused by the strain that the anorexia had put on her heart. She was 5'4" but, at the time of her death, she weighed only 108 pounds.

Anorexic Karen Carpenter collapsed during a concert while singing "I'm on Top of the World."

Defining disorders

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR; American Psychiatric Association, 2000)1 defines two of the major adult eating disorders as follows:

The essential features of Anorexia Nervosa are that the individual refuses to maintain a minimally normal body weight, is intensely afraid of gaining weight, and exhibits a significant disturbance in the perception of the shape or size of his or her body (p. 583).

Its counterpart

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by repeated episodes of binge eating followed by inappropriate compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting; misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or other medications; fasting; or excessive exercise. A disturbance in perception of body shape and weight is an essential feature of both [disorders] (p. 583).

The self-esteem of individuals with anorexia is highly dependent on their body shape and weight. Fully ninety percent of those who suffer from anorexia are females. Most begin to exhibit the disorder in their early teen years. Some may be restored to good health after only one episode. Others may experience the disorder to varying degrees for years at a time. Some, of course, only cease their destructive behavior upon death.

           

What "feeds" that sort of thing? For many people, expectations of beauty are defined by "that cover girl look" or how Miss America would look in her swimsuit. Underwear sales companies expose their "secrets" in catalogs, online, and in greatly-hyped TV specials.

Whose expectations? Shouldn't the expectations of the Master Designer have relevance here? Aren't the purposes for our being here—looking the way we do—something that should be in line with what our Creator has in mind for us?

God's cafeteria.  Just after God created the first man and woman (Genesis 1:27) and just before God announced that all creation was "very good" (1:31) he gave us food to eat! Our first diet was a vegetarian one. Later, animals were added to our diet (9:3).

1:29 Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food." And it was so. 31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Food to eat is a basic blessing given to us by God.

Food to eat is a basic blessing given to us by God. All the other movers and tail shakers of the earth were blessed with food as well.

Eating is a natural activity, a wholesome activity which sustains our health and strength. It is designed by God for our well-being, sustenance, growth … and for our pleasure!

Satan's menu. It is noteworthy that the first sin involved food and eating. Satan, the Twisted Imitator, used food to bring about the downfall of the human race. The serpent's brazen attack on God deceived the woman into eating. Though not a willful rebel as the man (Genesis 3:13, 1 Timothy 2:14), nonetheless she ate and earned the imposition of the death sentence. The man went farther than the woman. He used the fruit as the means of willfully rebelling against God. He died, as did the woman, and also earned the penalty of a curse inflicted upon the earth because of him (Genesis 3:17).

The first sin involved food and eating.

Adam wasn't the only one who ate for the wrong reason. Those who develop eating disorders can use eating as a coping mechanism, an escape, or as a substitute for love!  In fact, any of us can end up all too easily fixated on “self”—from the act of feeding oneself to the food itself—and on what one “can” or “can’t” have. The process of eating can become overly focused on the “created” rather than on the Creator.

God offered nutritious foraging to our forebears in the first Garden. God catered breakfast flakes in the desert when He gave the fleeing Israelites nutritious manna each work day of the week. And when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, feeding crowds of thousands, He showed His power to provide fully and completely—even miraculously—for the needs of His people.

All this gives us a clear picture that our need for physical food and God’s full provision of it is a tangible demonstration of spiritual realities. We require food to live. And we must take the action of actually eating in order to survive. God is the One who provides for our full sustenance. In fact, He Himself is our provision. No wonder Jesus said of Himself, "I am the bread of life!”

Paul and bodies in 1 Corinthians 6

Paul addresses a list of problems at Corinth in the sixth chapter of 1 Corinthians. First he deals with dueling Christians who dare to sue one another. He rebukes them and reminds them that they will judge the world. We will even judge the angels! Therefore arguments should be settled in the body of Christ.

Paul's positive message in 1 Corinthians 6 is that no matter what your past might have been, "… you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (verse 6:11).

The body builder. The "take home truth" in 1 Corinthians 6 comes in verses 6:19-20:

Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

God is interested in our bodies and in the way we treat them! Our body shape and fitness is a matter fit for spiritual evaluation. The better our health and overall physical well-being the better our ability to undertake work that demands stamina and long life. The better we can focus our minds in prayer. The better we can move about and serve others in practical ways.

Part of the secret of John Wesley's great impact on England and America was his physical resilience. After he settled on his spiritual methods to help people grow in Christ when he was in his 40's, he was able to circulate his ideas (literally) on horseback for another 50 years!

If we understand what the Bible says about our bodies and how we use them, we learn to call on God to help us live properly—and that includes a balanced view of our self, others, food, and our eating habits.

Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. What does that mean?

Our present physical bodies will not last forever as they are now, since the death sentence was earned in the Garden. But they are God's creation. Before Adam received the breath of life, God made his body from the dust of the earth. Before Eve became a living being, God built up part of the material taken from the man's side to be her body. Bodies came first, designed as good places where our spirits dwell.

God designed our good bodies to be nourished by food and to gain strength from what we eat. Food was no more an afterthought than were our bodies. All this reminds us of important spiritual realities, especially of our need for God and for God’s daily provision, sustenance, care, and love for us.

This has further implications for how we think about our bodies and about God. God is the One we need to please. God is the one who determines what is beautiful. We can learn to rely upon God as the One who cares for us with unconditional love. When we live disordered lives and need healing for body and soul, God can help us get the help we need. He wants us whole—appropriate temples for the Holy Spirit!

How does God bring healing for eating disorders (and other issues)? The following steps include some ideas inspired by Marjorie Cole (1999) who has very effectively helped people deal with eating (and other) disorders.

  • God works when we invite him in to work in our lives. So that is the starting point.
  • Secondly, we can ask God to take us back to the original place (experience) where the enemy first set up a lie in our lives that led to this problem/bondage. As God shows us that experience, we can feel the feelings we experienced at that time. We can ask God to show us the lie(s) we believed.
  • Thirdly, as God shows us a lie, we need to acknowledge to God that we have believed this lie, exchanging the lie for the Truth of God.
  • Fourthly, we must confess this as sin to God. God promises to forgive us and to cleanse us when we do this (1 John 1:9). We can ask God what he wants us to know further about this. As we wait for God we can expect God to show us.
  • As for others who have wronged us, forgive them. And let's not forget to forgive ourselves (just as we have been forgiven)! Great freedom comes with forgiveness.
  • Let's give our bodies to God. Ask God to make our bodies, which are already his temple, well-pleasing to him.
  • As we ask God to show us how beautiful we are to him, he will!*

God says to you, “I love you through and through. You are beautiful just because you are you. I made you and you are a marvelous wonder.”

* Please note that there are cases where our disordered lives for one reason or another have reached the point of body dysfunction where professional care is needed. The wisdom drawn on by these practitioners is valuable and helpful and should be sought out if you are feeling overwhelmed by these issues in your life. Please also note that those who are struggling, especially to the degree of needing professional help, should not be judged as being far away from God or not “spiritually-attuned” enough to receive healing. Christians can create extremely harmful situations when we automatically assume the nature of one’s spiritual life based on his or her struggles.

Notes

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.-text revision). Washington, DC: Author.
  2. Cole, M. (1999). Taking the devil to court: Present your case. Shippensburg, PA: Companion Press.

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