The following post is raw. It is a tiny glimpse into a struggle I had with an eating disorder in college, and my heart in sharing it with you is that more women would find freedom from the bondage of eating and image through Jesus. Eating disorders are one of the most hidden sins of our society, especially in the church. As followers of Jesus, we need to stand firm against this yoke of slavery and speak about the lies that women are believing all over the world about their image, food, and worth. To the girl who is struggling with her body - I know. I have been there. I have walked the cliff of control and almost fallen over it in my struggle to make my body perfect and find my beauty in the number on the scale. I know the loneliness of your heart. I know the bondage of your thoughts. I know the pangs of hunger and the deceit of the mirror. You are not alone. But, I also know the freedom in found only in surrender at the feet of Jesus! I know true healing. I know the joy of looking into the mirror of the Word of God and finding true beauty instead of the mirror on on the wall. I know what it is like to be satisfied by Jesus Christ alone and I long for you to know this as well! Freedom is not for tomorrow, it is for today, sister. And it is found in Christ alone.
To the friend or family member of the girl who is struggling with her body - This stronghold can only be broken through prayer and the power of Jesus Christ. It is a mental struggle and illness that should not be taken lightly. Even if you don’t understand, pray, encourage, and point your friend to the Word of God. Don’t try to fix them apart from the gospel. Don’t try to convince them they are wrong. Be patient, be supportive, and be there. The issue is not just in the body or the image, it is in the heart. We all have secret sins we struggle with, and the gospel is stronger than any of these strongholds. Let’s join together in coming to the cross for freedom and salvation!
That’s the number that glared at me on the scale. At 5 foot 10, I was a mere 115 pounds. Looking in the mirror, I felt beautiful. Finally, I thought to myself. I’ve finally reached the goal! After months of paying excruciating detail to my eating, exercising way more than my body could handle, and cutting every meal in half, I had lost 25 pounds. All while being involved in several ministries, including a Christian sorority, Bible studies, and our local church.
My freshman year of college looked drastically different than I imagined. Going into school, I felt confident and prepared. In high school, I was a leader in our youth group, on homecoming court every year, and involved in several activities. My parents encouraged me each day, and every morning my dad would greet me when I walked down the steps with a cheerful “Morning Princess!” My worth and beauty were affirmed through what I did and the words of my parents. I didn’t realize how much I relied on them to satisfy that longing in my heart.
Before I left for college, I made a surefire plan for my first year. The first thing on the list? Do not gain the dreaded freshman fifteen. I had been warned by many friends of this terrible thing that happens to freshman college students. Within months of stepping foot on campus, they gain 15 pounds. I had determined that this would not happen to me. So I made my infamous plan. I read books on how not to gain weight in college and went in with a mind that felt it was in total control of my eating and exercise.
The changes that college brought seemed overwhelming. No longer did I have my parents to encourage me every morning. No longer was I well known like I was at my school and church. I was starting fresh, which was exciting and scary at the same time. The possibilities for who I could be were endless. Without realizing it, I began a pursuit for beauty that would lead me down a narrow path of destruction.
By my second semester of freshman year, I had dropped 20-25 pounds from my previous healthy weight. I was not overweight coming to college or unhealthy. However, as Satan fed my lie after lie about my identity, I began to see myself as fat. I obsessed over the mirror and with each glance at my body, my eyes became exceedingly unhealthy and unable to see the truth. Our university was big on encouraging students to live a healthy lifestyle, but in their attempts to point us to “healthy” eating and exercise habits, they fed me a list of rules I had to follow.
Every single sign I saw I obeyed. “Cut your meals in half.” “Don’t eat sugar.” “Don’t drink this…do this…eat this…” That is what I did. I cut my meals in half (which were already extremely small), ate little to no sugar, and increased my exercise habits. I remember walking to class feeling dizzy and thinking I needed to drink more water. At night before bed, my stomach grumbled and burned with insatiable hunger. I would eat a bite of an apple and low calorie peanut butter to help till the morning. Every meal was planned carefully and exercise was priority. Without realizing it, I began a downward spiral into anorexia.
This season of my life was not marked by blatant rebellion towards the Lord. As a matter of fact, I was truly seeking Him and involved in many ministries. However, Satan’s deceitful ways are astounding. He knows exactly where we are weak and attacks hard in those areas. I even used Scripture to cover up my sin. 1 Corinthians 6:19 was my go-to verse - “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.” If my body was a temple, shouldn’t I take care of it? The lies of Satan were extremely strong and mind-controlling. He attacked me where I least expected it.
The eating disorder lasted for about a semester in it’s atrocious strength until God opened my eyes to my wretched sin and need for salvation. I will never forget the day I was washing my hair in the shower and noticed hair webbed in my fingers. My hair was falling out. I got of the shower and crumbled to the floor in total defeat and surrender. That day I drove home to my parents and confessed my need for help. My heart and identity were shattered in a million pieces, and my body was broken.
Psalm 34:18 tells us this truth: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” I was broken and crushed in ways I couldn’t fathom, yet God was near and He saved me. We sought Christian counsel and a nutritionist for help, and I spent countless hours journaling, studying, praying for freedom, and seeking to walk in it. My greatest fear was that I had lost my credibility as a follower of Jesus. I was afraid God wouldn’t use me anymore and that my sin was too big for Him to handle.
That is where the gospel rescued me from the pit. Don’t take this part of the story lightly. Jesus Christ reached down in my sinfulness and stronghold and broke the chains. As I struggled for freedom, I learned over and over again that there is NO freedom apart from the blood of Christ. There is no healing of our mind and thoughts apart from the cleansing of His Word. There is no hope apart from the cross. I share my story with you in its raw entirety to point you to Jesus. No sin is too big for the cross. He is still saving us. He is the great and mighty rescuer, and He has the power to break any stronghold!
If you are struggling with any kind of disordered eating, whether it be anorexia, bulimia, or an obsession with health and exercise, know this day that there is freedom in Jesus.No program or self-help article will set you free like He can. I have tasted of the darkness and of the light. I have felt the shackles be broken off of my hands and feet. I have felt the freedom that Christ shed His blood for on the cross. It is real. It is now. It is forever. And it has the power to save you.
You are not alone in your stronghold and you will not be there forever. Today, if you have been hiding in the darkness, bring this struggle into the light. Pour out your heart and your brokenness before Jesus, the mender of all things broken, the repairer of our wayward hearts. You are not too broken to be restored, sister. There is hope and there is freedom.
The secret sins of our hearts were not meant to keep us in bondage. Let’s walk in the light of salvation, the truth of the Word, and the freedom that Jesus bought for us. I am praying for you today and that you would begin the healing process and start walking the road to freedom. If you would like to read more of my story, click here. If you are hungry for freedom, begin in Psalm 23, meditating, praying, and yearning. Confess this sin to another believer and seek help, first from the Word, then from wise counsel and a professional. The road to freedom is long, beautiful, and gospel-filled. Christ will heal your eyes and your brokenness. One step at a time.
Walking in freedom with you,
(Photos by Emily Hooten)