Diagnosed with bulimia, on suicide-watch in a psychiatric hospital, could there ever be any real hope of healing?
I didn’t think so, back then when everything in my life felt so out of control, everything that is, except for the one thing I could control: food. To refuse food was to focus, gain control and, most of all, fight the enemy that made me fat. But the thinner I got, the fatter I felt. It was a driven cycle of self-loathing, self-punishment, craving, caving, binging, purging, laxatives and disgust. And, all the while, deep down inside I knew I wasn’t controlling food; food was controlling me.
There are many more people suffering like this than we might think. In February 2021, the UK Parliament House of Lords Library published a document, stating that “around 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder”.** And every one of those people, whether bulimic, anorexic or trapped in binge eating disorder, is locked in an isolating prison of loneliness, shrouded in guilt, shame and secrecy.
Why are there so many? Perhaps because eating patterns can be related to the kind of nurture we received as a child, and its outworking in adulthood. For, nurturing love, like nourishing food, is essential for our healthy development and inner wellbeing. A child who isn’t tenderly loved, cherished and fairly disciplined as God intends, grows up with an emotional chasm that screams out relentlessly from deep inside to be filled. And the desperation to still that hunger drives many to turn to food. Whilst eating something nice might bring fleeting comfort, it can never fill the deeper unmet need, and sadly, the fleeting moments of comfort so easily become a merciless addiction.
fleeting moments of comfort so easily become a merciless addiction.
For others, abuse has instilled fear, and the subconscious response is a desperate desire to become unattractive through grossly overeating, as a defence against further abuse. And for still others, abuse can cause a child to reason, ‘I deserved what I got. I’m bad’, which becomes a very deeply rooted belief, often outworked in self-hatred, self-punishment that can easily take the form of self-starvation (anorexia or bulimia) and perhaps even goes as far as a death wish.
Thankfully, God understands eating disorders and has great compassion on those who are locked in their ruthless grip. So much so, that His focus is never on the eating disorder, the cruel obsession that constantly demands attention, but always lovingly on the person crushed beneath it. The Bible says God doesn’t see things the way people see them, they judge by outward appearance, but He looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
And that’s why the answer to the question of hope, is unreservedly yes. God’s heart is for those who carry the very real heartache of desperate unmet needs. And He tenderly whispers, ‘I know you and I care. I know what’s happened in your life that led you to cling to food… or to shun it’. The reasons can be far more extensive than described above, but when you are ready, He will show you the underlying truth for you, just as He showed me and give you the courage to face your own inner pain and heartache, fears and insecurity with Him.
It isn’t a quick fix. It’s a journey with God, but even to begin to believe in real personal healing can be like facing a sheer rockface. I remember being totally convinced that how it was for me, was how it was… and not just how I was, but WHO I was. I would eat if I had to in company, but in private I would vomit it out of my body. Such was my self-loathing, I just couldn’t allow myself to receive any goodness, including food and including any hope of freedom.
I would eat if I had to in company, but in private I would vomit it out of my body
Yet, there was God, and even though I was certain He couldn’t possibly tolerate a person like me, let alone love me, He still took my meagre crumb of faith, and as I dared to look up to Him, His Holy Spirit stirred up fragile trust, that maybe, just maybe He had a pathway forward for me.
I had many struggles as I took tentative steps forward with Him. His Word, the Bible, said He made me good, and He had good things for me, which went against everything I believed. And you can’t just drop rock solid beliefs that are so deeply woven into the depths of your identity, with all the complexities of an eating disorder built around them… just because the Bible tells you different. I wrestled with God, but He was patient and kind, and gave me the time I needed. And through each struggle, He grew that fragile trust in Him and in people who imparted the truth of His Word to me.
God never confronted my self-destructive eating patterns head-on, but when I was strong enough, He did ask me to go to the roots, the painful places, with Him. And there He poured out His comfort and love in very real ways, such that I had never known before. He filled and satisfied the aching, empty chasm, like nothing else ever could. It was then, that bulimia lost its hold. I had found the real answer in His unconditional love and acceptance, and finally the ravenous hunger was stilled. It’s been nearly twenty years now. My body image is no longer an obsession, the fight against food has gone, I am at peace with myself living in the truth of what God says about me.
My body image is no longer an obsession, the fight against food has gone, I am at peace with myself living in the truth of what God says about me.
If you suffer with an eating disorder, I urge you to take the same risk I did: dare to take those first few tentative steps on the unique journey I know God has for you too. It’s not an easy pathway, but it really is worth it. You could begin by asking Him to show you how He sees you. It will almost certainly cut right across your own view of yourself. Remember He’s not harsh and disapproving of you, He is kind and loving, you are at the centre of His heart, and He will never, ever let you down.
This is a very big issue and it may be this would be the opportunity to come to an Ellel Centre to start a walk towards healing. Booking a Healing Retreat may be the place to begin or calling a Ministry Manager at one of our Ellel centres as they are ideally placed to guide each person to the best starting point.
* Written by ‘Sarah’, a healed survivor in long-term recovery from sexual abuse, bulimia, OCD and clinical depression. Sarah’s story can be read in the book Sarah: from an abusive childhood and the depths of suicidal despair to a life of hope and freedom, Sarah Shaw (Lancaster: Sovereign World Ltd., 2009).
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