People with eating disorders, disordered eating patterns, and body image struggles fill our churches. And what are we telling them? What are we not telling them? Or, even the better question might be, are we telling these people anything?
In December of 2002, I was hospitalized for an eating disorder, depression, and anxiety. Three months later, I left the hospital AMA (against medical advice) tired of bed checks, knitting circles, counseling sessions, doctors appointments, and Ensure smoothies. And twelve years later, I no longer cry over eating a banana or feel the urge to run ten miles to work off a piece of grilled chicken.
Even after receiving inpatient and outpatient treatment, I believed the lie that if I tried harder, I wouldn’t struggle anymore—that if I could just white-knuckle my cravings, I would turn to Jesus rather than to the Jif crunchy peanut butter.
And I couldn’t have been more wrong. My long-time struggle with addiction has manifested itself in fear, anxiety, depression, anger, and various behavior modifications for more than a decade in my life. As an addict, I tried to deal with the distress of my life with the same thing that caused the distress. For years, I have run (yes, literally and metaphorically) to behavior modifications. I now know that I can’t fix myself. My efforts have failed me every single time. The Lord has exposed what I’ve tried to hide and healed what I’ve tried to deny.
And when I start to drift, the Holy Spirit guides me, and fellow believers encourage me in the gospel. So here’s to an absence of calorie-counting and an acknowledgment of Christ’s beauty in the gospel. May we enjoy our chocolate cupcakes, our creamy Alfredo, and our captivating Jesus in freedom, joy, and dependence. The Lord has and is making all things—even eating—new.
Rather than a list of what not to eat and why, here’s a list of what to believe and why:
Food is not the problem. The problem is sin. The problem is the heart. To solve the problem, then, does not simply involve meal plans and calorie-counting, but rather a transformation of the heart by the power of the gospel (Ps 107:17–21) .
Stop trying so hard. Start believing more. Freedom cannot be attained apart from the gospel. Replace the legalistic approach of rigid rule-following with daily submitting to the Lord, walking by the Spirit, and trusting in the saving work of Christ (Gal 5:16–18).
Expose the struggle. Engage in community. The Lord does a work of healing when we stop hiding and expose our struggles and our shame. True change happens in the context of community (1 Jn 1:5–10).
Jesus is always better. The gospel always applies. Whatever masters us, we will make much of in our lives. The gospel transforms and is redeeming everything, even food (Phil 3:7–11).
Bon appétit to our hungry appetites and holy affections.