Q&A: Could my eating disorder have a spiritual component?Written by Focus on the Family
I’ve been struggling with an eating disorder ever since I was a teenager. Recently I shared this with a friend, and she suggested that my problem may stem from a lack of understanding of my identity in Christ. Do you think this is a valid observation?
As Christians, we know that there is a deep spiritual component to almost every problem and pathology we face as human beings. This isn’t to say that all of these issues can be resolved by means of a simple regimen of prayer and Bible reading. But it does suggest that, at some level or another, most of the fears, joys, cravings, desires and longings we experience in life are somehow rooted in our nature as people created in the image of God. We’re made to "know Him and the power of His resurrection" (John 17:3; Philippians 3:10); our purpose is to "glorify God and enjoy Him forever" (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 1). To the extent that we either do or do not fulfill this purpose, we will know either abundant peace or a plaguing sense of emptiness.
From this perspective, then, your friend’s insights are right on target. When confronting a challenge like an eating disorder, it can only help to confirm and strengthen your grasp of foundational Biblical truths concerning God’s love for you, His plan for your life, and your identity in Christ. As we’ve already said, there’s an important sense in which these truths cut straight to the heart of the problem. But it’s also crucial to realize that knowledge by itself won’t bring the full healing you so desperately need. Because you’re a fallen and imperfect human being, a person who has lived her entire life in the grip of sin and under the influence of unhealthy thought patterns, it’s going to take some serious work to apply this knowledge to your situation and put it into action. Complete deliverance requires a comprehensive approach. In other words, in addition to focusing on the spiritual foundation of your problem, you need to look at it on the mental, emotional and physical levels as well.
As a first step in this direction, we recommend that you spend some time considering precisely how and why your mind has become so intently focused on your weight. Have you ever examined the origins of your eating disorder? If you do, you’ll probably come to realize that there are a number of serious challenges in your life that you’re not really facing because they’re simply too emotional or too overwhelming to think about. By focusing on this one issue – weight and eating – you've succeeded in distracting yourself from the others. Identifying these other issues can sometimes be the key to the recovery process.
So stop for a moment, take stock of your personal history, and dredge up the courage to ask yourself some tough questions. Have you been through a multitude of losses or a single significant loss that has never been dealt with? Have you experienced abuse or neglect? How are your relationships with your family of origin, your church family, your co-workers and people outside your inner circle? Remember, God designed us to be connected in two ways: with Himself and with others. If your relationships are in disarray, this may have something to do with the underlying causes of your eating disorder.
A skilled Christian counsellor can help you sort through these issues so as to resolve your eating disorder and redeem your personal struggles. If you need assistance locating such a therapist, feel free to call Focus on the Family Canada’s counselling department. Our staff can provide you with a list of qualified counsellors practicing in your area. They’d also be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone. You can reach them Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800.
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