Updated: Apr 8
I sat in my cozy chair sipping my sweet, (yes with real sugar) hot tea eagerly devouring every word spoken by Cynthia Bulik Ph.D. about her latest discoveries and research on eating disorders. She spoke primarily of anorexia, but she touched on all eating disorders (ED) and the neurobiology, genetic, and metabolic factors that contribute to this disease. I let out an audible sigh, wiping tears from my eyes as I momentarily let myself off the hook for allowing ED to weave in and out of my life. I didn’t chose it, the first diet I went on allowed it to choose me.. No one chooses the most deadly of all mental illnesses.
ED forced its way into my life and all those who, unknowingly, are vulnerable to ED. I can't explain the emotional release of having, the shame and burden, that I was responsible for the ED, lifted from my spirit. Then the anxiety chased me down because while none of us chose this illness, we somehow have to make the choice to recover. This choice will always mean choosing to endure the side effects of our prescribed medicine...FOOD! The side effects are real and the time frame for these side effects to subside has no specific end point. My clinicians gave me a time line of 6 months to 2 years to have the physical discomfort subside. Four years after complete weight restoration, the side effects may sneak up me.
I made a daily decisions to “cast all are anxiety on Him…” 1 Peter 5:7 taking my "medicine" despite the inevitable side effects. I don't know whether it was actual trust that God was holding me or, if after more years with an active ED than without, I surrendered out of shear exhaustion. I begrudgingly handed over my emotional and physical discomfort to God. And yes my friends the side effects can be physically as brutal as Chemotherapy and other treatments people endure.
Side effects from eating??? You bet! After years of viewing food as the enemy, I was asking my mind, body and spirit to switch sides and see it as a friend. Initially it wasn't my friend, but a necessary evil. One that hurt. Nausea was consistently crashing down on me in thunderous waves. My gut, slow to empty as if it didn't remember what to do with food, bloated and cramped, I often curled up in pain. The skull crushing headaches after each meal rendered me dull and slow to think. Nothing tasted good and I forced myself to eat even when I was full, the acid burning my esophagus caused this food to slide down as chards of glass.
I found the following article to be helpful to understand how the body responds to re-introducing nourishment to it. I hope that this will be helpful to those desiring to understand why recovery isn't as simple as "just eat."
Watching a YouTube of a pastor answering a question from a young women in his congregation, "is anorexia a sin? I cringed at his answers. How can people in 2021 still believe the myth that people with ED are simply vain, focused on the culture and outward appearance, or an idol, or____________(fill in the blank)
One of the first cases of anorexia was reported in the Middle Ages. Catherine of Siena had no Facebook, no magazines, no Instagram or Twitter, but she had anorexia brought on by fasting to join in the suffering of Christ and soon her fasting became something she had to do and not a choice. Hmm? Sounds familiar. Although Technically her condition was anorexia mirabilis or an extreme for of holy fasting, the neurophysiological changes are quite similar to those of anorexia nervosa.
(Galassi FM, Bender N, Habicht ME, Armocida E, Toscano F, Menassa DA, Cerri M. St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380 AD): one of the earliest historic cases of altered gustatory perception in anorexia mirabilis. Neurol Sci. 2018 May;39(5):939-940. doi: 10.1007/s10072-018-3285-6. Epub 2018 Feb 22. PMID: 29470675.t)
This and other findings continue to support that whether our weight changes drastically due to dieting to reach some thin ideal, or by extreme holy fasting, the result, for those of us vulnerable, is an eating disorder. You can click on this link to learn more about recent research.
So, why revisit this question of "is this a sin?" As a woman of Christ, I labor over this question because I am tired of the perpetual myth that eating disorders are a choice, an act of pride, vanity, control, or rebellion. I am also frustrated by how people of Christ are often the ones that can hurt us with the most erroneous judgement based on The Word with little knowledge of the pathology of EDs.
To paraphrase renowned eating disorder researcher Dr. Cynthia Bulik Phd. “Eating disorders, anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, are an illness and not a choice. Today even more evidence supports what those with anorexia have been trying to voice all along. A simple diet leads us careening down a path we NEVER intended to travel. This continued research explains why a group of women may go on the same "diet," lose weight, and yet only a small percentage will go on to develop Anorexia. If Anorexia were a choice based on meeting the cultural thin ideal, idolatry, or vanity, why do we starve ourselves beyond the point of "attractive," or beyond health to pursue this thin ideal? Remember that you don't have to look sick to be sick!
Please don't point to Matthew 6:25 accusing us of defying God's word by worrying about the things he asks us not to worry about. See https://www.eatingbyfaith.com/post/do-not-worry
We are experts at shaming ourselves and believing we are somehow damaged goods. We believe the lies that Satan fires at us and forget that The Lord promise to us in Psalms 34:5 that “those who look to him are radiant our faces never covered in shame.” Believe me if it we could ‘’JUST STOP IT!” We would. I would have just stopped it and never had a relapsed.
Before reaching into scripture to clobber, I mean "help" those with the real illnesses of ED, ask yourself this simple question, "would I use these scriptures to encourage, or build up someone with cancer, MS, COVID 19, heart disease, Alzheimers, a stroke, etc.? If the answer is no, please do not use it in hopes of shaming us into recovery. You see shaming doesn't heal, it wounds the already wounded.
Is there a scripture that well intended Christians have used to shame you for being sick?
Is there a scripture that you can rest in and KNOW God loves you, weeps with you, smile with you, laughs with you and adores you?