I remember the crippling shame all too well. Growing up, people knew me as “the good Christian girl” who always smiled and stayed out of trouble. On the outside, my life appeared to be in order.However, behind the smiles I battled a severe eating disorder.
Throughout my childhood, I experienced disordered thoughts and behaviors related to food and weight. Over the years, those disordered tendencies gradually snowballed into a full-blown eating disorder. Terrified of hurting my family with the truth, I remained quiet and attempted to fix myself.
“If I just pray more. If I just read my Bible more. If I just have more faith. If I just rely on God more. If I just find my identity in who Christ says I am. If I just fill my thoughts with Scripture. If I just force myself to eat. Then I will be able to resist the struggle. Besides, I’m not that thin. I won’t become sick enough for it to really count as an eating disorder. No one will ever need to know.”
These misconceptions about eating disorders prevented me from seeking professional help. The longer I kept silent, the more powerful the eating disorder grew. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make the thoughts stop. Sometimes I managed to suppress everything enough to think I had “gotten over it.” But the struggle always resurfaced. No matter how hard I prayed. No matter how much I read the Bible. No matter how much faith I placed in God. The mental battle persisted relentlessly.
When I looked at my life, I couldn’t understand why I struggled.
I loved Christ deeply and cared significantly more about what He thought of me than what others thought. But I still developed at eating disorder.
I believed in the healing power of God and lived a deeply prayerful life. But I still developed an eating disorder.
- I valued inner beauty far more than physical appearances. But I still developed an eating disorder.
I knew God’s unconditional love was a gift that I could never earn and that perfection was unattainable. But I still developed an eating disorder.
I served as a church youth leader, dated an incredible guy, and knew my family loved me unconditionally. But I still developed an eating disorder.
- I had been given every opportunity to succeed in life. But I still developed an eating disorder.
Eventually, my ability to think dissipated into a fog of malnutrition and major depression. The illness I had tried so desperately to control instead controlled me. When the shame of my struggles became too much to bear, I resorted to self-harm for relief.
In the spring of 2007, I finally broke down and sought professional help. The news devastated my family. My reputation crumbled. Unable to function, I checked into a residential treatment facility. The overwhelming sense of shame and failure wrecked me.
How could I have let this happen? How could I call myself a real Christian? How could I put my family through this? How could I ever look people in the eye when I returned home?
Recovering from the eating disorder took years of extensive treatment, commitment, and hard work. Letting go of the shame and embarrassment took even longer.
During my recovery, I encountered Christians who believed my illness resulted entirely from flaws in my relationship with God. They believed I would have been miraculously healed if my faith had been stronger. Some even questioned my salvation. Rather than educating themselves on eating disorders, they made snap judgments about my heart.
Their words crushed me. I had finally found the courage to be real with people, and they echoed the very misguided beliefs that had kept me silent for so long. Rather than encouraging me to keep fighting, their words left me humiliated and ashamed.
Thankfully, many more people surrounded me with the unconditional love of Christ and walked through the trenches alongside me. They assured me that I had no reason to be ashamed and supported me the entire way. They genuinely showed me Jesus during my darkest days and I will forever be grateful to them.
Now ten years later and fully recovered, I long to end the painful stigma associated with eating disorders in hopes of encouraging others to seek help sooner.
The Truth about Eating Disorders
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, eating disorders affect 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States.They exist in all religions, races, genders, and sizes.Being a Christian does not make you immune. Eating disorders are not a choice, nor are they a phase that people outgrow. Eating disorders are deadly mental illnesses caused by a complex combination of biological and environmental factors. Like any serious illness, eating disorders require professional help to fully overcome.
Working with a qualified treatment team to address the underlying causes is vital to reaching and maintaining a full recovery. The level of treatment and amount of time it takes to recover differs for each person. But a full recovery is 100% possible.
If you are struggling today, you are not a failure. You are not a disappointment. You have an illness and there is no shame in seeking professional help. A full recovery can be yours. You did not choose to be sick, but you can choose to seek help today. It might be the hardest path you ever walk, but hope and healing are waiting for you. God created your life for a beautiful purpose. You have every reason to fight, no matter how dark things feel now.
Not all eating disorders look the same. Many people prolong getting help because they don’t fit the stereotypical eating disorder image. You do not have to be underweight to be in danger. You do not have to look sick to need help.
If you are unsure whether you need help, visit NEDA’s websiteto learn more about the different types of eating disorders. Even if you do not meet the full criteria for a specific eating disorder, I encourage you to still seek professional help if food and weight control your life. Early intervention increases the likelihood of a full recovery, according to NEDA. Don’t wait for things to get worse, reach out for help today!
Ready to seek help but unsure where to start?
Contact your insurance provider for a list of eating disorder specialists in your area. I recommend finding a therapist and registered dietician who specialize in eating disorders. They will be best equipped to lead you through the complexities of recovery and will help you determine whether any additional levels of treatment are necessary.
NEDA is also a great resource:
NEDA Helpline: Call, Chat, or Text
Call: (800) 931-2237
Crisis Text Line: Text NEDA to 741741
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along’… You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Photo Courtesy: Unsplash.com
Kimberly Carroll is a military spouse, mother of two, and graduate of UNC Chapel Hill. She has a heart for the weary and broken-hearted, holds tightly to her eternal hope in Christ, and wants nothing more than for her life to be an outpouring of God's never-ending love to those around her. On her blog, Kimberly discusses mental illness, grief and the importance of never giving up. Follow her blog at https://kims88.