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Hi, friends! Thank you for choosing to learn about eating disorders, whether you are looking to find your own freedom or to support someone else in her or his journey (of the reported cases, 10 percent are male) back to wellness.

In Western societies there has been an epidemic increase in three eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and compulsive overeating (which includes binge eating and continual "grazing"). Eating disorders are an extremely destructive type of addiction. Of those whose eating disorders get reported, it is estimated that 20 percent will die!

Four factors—biology, sociology, culture and trauma—contribute to this tragic trend. Biologically, each person is different. Socially, one's friends and family have a unique psychological effect. Everyone has basic needs, including trust, safety, control, esteem, intimacy, independence and spirituality. When these needs are not being met, we may gravitate toward an eating disorder as a conscious or subconscious attempt to fill the void. Such disorders are used as medication for the inner pain and give one a sense of self—though a false self.

Culturally, we are bombarded with messages that popularity is all-important and "thin is beautiful." The emphasis is on weight and shape, rather than on inward beauty of the heart. We're pushed to extremes: either "Eat, drink and be merry!" or "Food is your enemy."

With trauma, such as physical, sexual or verbal abuse, the authentic self is wounded, and as a result we may grasp at anything to become the savior. Trauma can also be a succession of small hurts, like a parent continuously mentioning a child's mistakes. Eventually one more hurt can be the "final straw," and the disorder takes root.

For those who feel helpless and hopeless, we'll point the way to help and hope. In this lesson you will see how God can provide the willingness, wisdom and power to enable you to recover from this terrible burden.

Lesson: Eating Disorders

Bible Study - Eating DisordersAn eating disorder is a symptom of a storm that is ripping through a person's heart. To conquer the eating disorder, there must first be healing of the storms within. Part of the healing must be spiritual. The spiritual hole in your heart must be filled with God's love and truth.

Rachel Quast, M.A., an eating disorder counselor and public speaker for SHED (Self-Healing through Education), tells her story:

"My recovery from anorexia, bulimia and binge eating has God's hands all over it. I entered the initial stages of anorexia as an 8-year-old, when I began writing diet books. However, the death grip magnified when I was 11.

"I was starving to know that I was wanted by my parents. My father was gone for business all week, except for Saturday. I tried to win his attention by acting and thinking like he did. I followed him. I pushed myself to excel at everything, because I needed to know I mattered to someone. ‘I've got to be better. I'm not doing enough.' As children do, I assumed I wasn't doing enough or he'd stay home. My parents' criticisms meant I was a disappointment. I desperately searched for a way to be good.

"Food and weight became my weapon of choice to deal with the inner pain. I used the disorder to scream my pain, hoping my family would hear my voice and feelings. Since feelings were not acceptable in our family, I was left to communicate through actions.

"I forced myself to refrain from any form of fat or sugar and to stand the entire day (even while in school). I also found my new ‘home' at the gym. All this activity seemed to temporarily medicate some of my needs. However, as all addictions tend to do, the anorexia intensified. I ate minimal amounts of food and worked out for three to four hours per day. At times, I was even afraid to swallow my own saliva. By this time, I just wished I'd die.

"I found myself tangled in the disorder's web of lies. I lost all my friends, my bubbly personality and my health. Ironically, while I was trying to control my food and exercise, I was totally losing control. In fact, I almost lost my life. Weighing only 54 pounds at 14 years old, I was admitted into an inpatient hospital. After recovery, I kept relapsing with bulimia and then binge eating, but finally found true freedom from all three eating disorders at 20 years old.

"Looking back, I see how God was and still is intimately involved in my recovery, helping me with miracle after miracle. God gave me a determination to recover. He provided wise counselors and special people who listened to me at odd hours. He enabled my wonderful parents to understand and to become part of my support group. As I continue to pray, God continues to heal me at deeper and deeper levels, showing me how Christ and God are my supreme sources of emotional healing and authentic power and value."

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How the Bible Can Support Your Recovery From an Eating Disorder

Good understanding is needed to recognize and recover from any degree of an eating disorder. For example, a person with an eating disorder is not always underweight or overweight or exhibiting extreme behavior. Denying the disorder only delays recovery while the person sinks deeper into it and the lies that support it.

We urge you to seek professional help and the moral support of people you respect and can trust. But this lesson is primarily about something that is an often-neglected key to success—the help that God offers through His Word and through His Spirit to anyone who seeks His help. The lesson can help you develop a healthy relationship with God and the people around you.

In the Bible, we learn what is important and what is less important. Paul wrote, "For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17).

Does anyone really and truly love me?

John 3:16-17
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

Your Designer and Maker knows you perfectly and cherishes you with His boundless love. To convince you that God will never forsake you or forget you, He says, "See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands" (Isaiah 49:16). You are deeply and forever loved by God.

Will God help me with my eating disorder? Can I safely trust Him?

Proverbs 3:5-6 (New Living Translation)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.

After being hurt by actions and words and having your trust continually broken, it may feel safer to depend on something tangible, like food and weight. However, think about the pain the eating disorder has caused in your life. Turn to God, let Him speak to you through His Word, and talk to Him as your Friend and Father, praying for His help. You know the pain of the eating disorder. Discover the peace and joy of God's ways!

I've been hiding my hurtful behaviors. Is there anything wrong with that?

James 5:16 (Modern King James Version)
Confess faults to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous one avails much.

Proverbs 11:14
Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.

Hiding prevents healing. Isolation increases shame, so you fear to rely on anything but the disorder. God not only wants you to confide in Him, He also wants you to confide in counselors and friends you can trust, asking for their support, prayers and guidance. Doing so leads to healing. Talk candidly to God every day, and learn to open up with others as well. Ask God to give you the courage.

Will God help me with my shame and inner pain?

Psalm 147:3
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

God wants to heal you! He will empower you to break the vicious cycle—shame leading to an eating disorder that contributes to more shame, etc. You are not a bad person and you are not alone! Over 10 million people in the United States are experiencing an eating disorder. And everyone struggles with various unhealthy thoughts and bad habits, so don't think of an eating disorder as being especially strange or evil. It's just a symptom of the inner hurting, and God can heal you of the symptom and the inner hurting.

What's wrong with using physical things, like food and weight-control, to try to meet our emotional needs?

Habakkuk 2:18 (New International Version)
"Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak."

It can seem like a natural and easy solution to "feed" or starve away that inner pain. After all, the media promotes all kinds of self-medication. These are lies. Our society has made food, weight and body shape into idols, and we can easily becomeenslavedto those images! Using food or food-deprivation to try to heal our hurts or provide safety does not work. Food is powerless, just like wooden idols are powerless.

Who is the ultimate force promoting eating disorders? And where is he trying to lead us?

John 10:10
"The thief [Satan] does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I [Jesus Christ] have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly."

Extreme abstinence from foods is one of the "doctrines of demons" (1 Timothy 4:1-3). Remember that God loves you and Satan hates you. Satan wants you to think the eating disorder is your friend that "promises" to make you special or powerful. The truth is, it kills the mind and body and steals your quality of life. God will help you "escape the snare of the devil" so you can lead a healthy and happy life (2 Timothy 2:26).

God is the ultimate force for good. Where do His ways lead us?

Philippians 4:6-7 (New Revised Standard Version)
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

God is the ultimate force promoting physical, mental and spiritual health. Ask God daily to empower you to make steps toward recovery, one day at a time. Keep thanking Him for His many blessings and benefits. And more and more, you will experience an amazing peace of mind!

I continue to have a powerful inner struggle. What can I do?

Philippians 3:13-14
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Keep your eyes fixed on goals of spiritual and physical health and keep pressing toward them. Also set small goals of recovery. We all struggle with inner battles. Even the apostle Paul admitted that he still had to fight against wrong thoughts (Romans 7:15-25). But Paul understood how to win. First, he didn't allow past experiences to be his identity, but through repentance and conversion, he received God's forgiveness and a new start. He took God's words as the truth about who he was as a forgiven follower of Christ, no matter how his past haunted him.

God's Word teaches, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). That clearly implies that instead of self-loathing or self-condemnation, we forgiven Christians should have a right kind of love for ourselves—the kind of love that leads us to take good care of our spiritual, mental and physical health.

Every day think of the eating disorder as your enemy, not your friend! Don't listen to its seductive lies. And don't try to fight if by yourself. If the old eating disorder seems to be telling you that you are "fat" or "ugly" or "disgusting for eating that," don't believe it. You now know better. Turn to the Bible and listen to your loving Creator instead.

If I let go of the eating disorder, how will I fill the void and provide for unmet needs?

Matthew 11:28-30
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

Rely on God to meet your emotional, physical and spiritual needs. He promises us peace (John 14:27), courage and support (Deuteronomy 31:6), dependability (Psalm 119:90), power (2 Timothy 1:7) and strength (Philippians 4:13). Try to read the Bible every day. And then ask God for guidance and wisdom, rather than trying to fix things by yourself (James 1:5). Jesus said, "Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:24).

What is one thing you can do to support recovery?

Romans 12:2
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Philippians 4:8
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

Transform your thoughts! Thoughts lead to feelings, and feelings drive behavior. Negative thoughts and images about yourself can lead to an eating disorder and then fuel it. Let God transform you and direct your thoughts. Think of yourself the way God thinks of you—as a lovable child of God!

People experiencing an eating disorder are generally too hard on themselves and they make harsh demands of themselves. They're hypercritical and perfectionistic. The Bible repeatedly urges us: "Do not fear" and "Do not worry." Study the subject of grace and learn how merciful God is. Then treat yourself with grace, kindness and mercy. When you make a mistake, don't dwell on it. Just get up and keep going forward. God promises to be with you every step of the way (Hebrews 13:5-6).

Please—let this lesson be your springboard for further study if you have an eating disorder or if you think you might have started in that direction. And if you are a parent, other family member or friend of someone you suspect may have an eating disorder, please do further study so you can offer understanding, help and support.


Apply Now

If you or a loved one needs help, please seek help right away. It's important to learn about all three eating disorders and the true causes of why they develop. We suggest that you begin right away by taking a look at these Web sites:

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Related Resources:

Breaking Free From Addictions

Addictions and Interventions

Keys to a Long, Healthy Life

The Bible's Keys to Mental Health

Joy: Foundation for a Positive Life