Behind Closed Doors: Eating Disorders and Forsaking Perfection

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Behind Closed Doors: Eating Disorders

April 11, 2019  - By Gretchen Saffles

Forsaking Perfection for the Perfect One.

I Would Never...

“I would never starve myself of food,” I mentioned to my mom nonchalantly as we stood in the kitchen my senior year of high school. I’d heard of girls who refused to eat because of an obsession with food, and frankly, I thought the idea of doing such a thing was absurd. That is, until the day I found myself doing the exact thing I had vowed never to do.

To this day, I am not sure what prompted that conversation, but I vividly remember saying those words with sheer confidence. Like the credits of a movie, my “I would never” statement rolled back into my mind years later when I found myself enslaved to the scale, starving myself of nutrition, and unsatisfied with the reflection I saw looking back at me in the mirror. Over 30 million women, men, and children suffer from an eating disorder every year in the United States, and I became one of them.

When You Do What You Thought You’d Never Do

Growing up, my mom would encourage me to “never say never.” I’ve always been an “always or never” kind of girl, perfecting the art of exaggeration as a child. Even now, I love attaching an absolute to a statement for added emphasis, even when I know the absolute doesn’t completely apply. When I told my mom I would never struggle with an eating disorder, I swung open the door for that particular stronghold to take root in my heart and mind because I let down my guard, thinking I was above such a struggle. My “never” led me to “someday” due to my own pride.

No one ever plans on struggling with an eating disorder. It isn’t something you dream of as a little girl. And it’s not something you willingly flaunt. In fact, it’s a disorder and stronghold that happens, most often, behind closed doors. For the woman who is restricting her food, no one sees her empty fridge. For the woman who is binging and then purging, no one sees her in the bathroom. For the woman who is over-exercising and under-eating, no one sees her doing extra sit-ups before bed. Though this struggle is often cultivated in secret, its repercussions are eventually revealed in plain sight.

When I first began controlling my food intake and excessively exercising, I didn’t tell anyone. As a matter of fact, I was originally oblivious that what I was doing was becoming an obsession and obstruction to my health—physically and spiritually. I simply wanted to be “healthy” and beautiful. But my desire for health, beauty, and worth were fueled by an incorrect image of who I was and who God is. Life felt out of my control when I headed off to college, and one thing that felt within my reach to control was food, and thus began the struggle with what I thought I would “never” ever do.

No One Ever Plans to Have an Eating Disorder

Worshipping What is Made Instead of the Maker Himself

The day I stood on a scale and saw a number that was twenty pounds lighter than the weight I was when I entered college was an exciting day. I was thrilled to see it so low! At that time, people had been complimenting me on my appearance, noticing that I was thinner and telling me I looked good. The compliments fueled my desire for control, my obsession behind closed doors.

What those people couldn’t see was a mind fraught with fears, worries, and insecurities. I’d go to bed planning exactly what I’d eat the next day. My stomach would burn with hunger pangs, but I grew to embrace them. 

After class, I would often stand up and become dizzy and light-headed. I found ways to “eat” things with little to no calories. These foods were my staples, and my plate was my idol.

It has been over ten years since I walked through this struggle, but even now, as I write this, my heart can feel the weight of it all—the desperation, the depression, the disillusionment. In searching for my identity in my outward appearance, I actually lost it. Jesus said, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul” (Matthew 16:26)? I was certain I was gaining what I needed for satisfaction, but ultimately, I lost—weight, pride, confidence, and identity.

Idols always take more than they give. In the Old Testament, idol worship is plain to see, as well as God’s view of idol worship. As a matter of fact, the very first of the Ten Commandments is to have no other gods before Yahweh God (Exodus 20:2). Ironically, while Moses was on top of Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites were crafting an idol in the form of a golden calf (Exodus 32:4). When I read about the idol worship of the Old Testament, I often grow frustrated. How could the people make a calf of gold to praise when the God who made that very gold was leading them through the wilderness? It seems utterly absurd. But we do the same thing. We craft idols—material and immaterial—to worship.

We obsess over the reflection we see in the mirror to the point where a bad hair day or an unexpected zit can ruin our entire morning. We read food labels for hours in the store to ensure we are eating the perfect, healthy diet. We work extra hours to buy more expensive things we think will bring us joy. We scroll social media and post to be noticed and “liked” by others. Idols are everywhere. They may not look like golden calves, but they often look like an iPhone, a handbag, or a mirror.

Exposed

Idolatry is rooted in a skewed image of God and manifests itself in obsession. When we worship an idol, we think about it, revolve our lives around it, and spend our time pursuing it.

When I struggled with an eating disorder, I idolized food, the scale, and the mirror. I thought no one could tell, but my sin of idol worship was obvious to everyone but myself—that is until my roommates staged an “intervention.” I’ll never forget walking into our living room and seeing them waiting for me, to tell me that they were concerned about my eating and weight loss. To say that I was devastated would be an understatement. I was ashamed, embarrassed, and exposed. The idol I thought I had kept hidden and controlled had actually been plain for all to see, and I was convinced my testimony for Christ was completely ruined.

Idols Always Take More Than They Give

This is one of the biggest lies of the enemy. Ever since the garden, he has sought to expose and destroy God’s creation through sin. When Adam and Eve bit into the forbidden fruit and sinned against God, their nakedness was exposed, and they sewed together fig leaves to cover themselves. Exposure required covering, and God knew their coverings weren’t sufficient. Just a few verses later God provided a better covering; an innocent animal was slain so Adam and Eve could be clothed by it. All of this points us to Jesus, the greatest covering of all—He is the Lamb who was slain, and his spotless blood covers what Satan exposed.

Why do I say all of this? Because at that moment, when I thought my life was in shambles and my testimony was irreparable, God provided a better covering. It wasn’t my “good girl” record. It wasn’t my size. It wasn’t my reflection in the mirror. It wasn’t the idols I had worshipped. My covering was Jesus, and my testimony would always be one of His saving grace. When God opened my eyes to the idol I had been worshiping, I realized that my testimony had never been held together by what I said I would “never” do and had still done. Rather, my testimony was one that revealed I could never do it all perfectly. Only Jesus could do that for me. My rock-bottom moment became a sounding board for the freedom and fullness God was leading me into. But first, it was necessary to expose my sin and the stronghold that had been growing behind closed doors and bring it out into the light.

Obsessed with Jesus

Do you know the good thing about hitting rock-bottom? You can only go up from there. As God began to heal my heart, mind, and body through Christian counseling and huge lifestyle shifts, He also began using my story to set others free. I remember the first time I shared my struggle with another friend. Deep down, I felt she might be struggling with something similar and took a leap of faith to tell her what God was freeing me from. When I finished, she had tears in her eyes and admitted, “Me too, Gretchen.” She proceeded to tell me I was the first person she had ever told of her eating disorder, and today she is a healthy mama of a little girl and is serving Jesus faithfully alongside her husband.

God turned my obsession with my appearance, my weight, and the number on the scale into an obsession with Jesus. “Obsess” is quite the buzzword these days and one we often throw around flippantly. But to obsess over something is a big deal. It’s a preoccupation, and it is worship. In this life, only Jesus is worth obsessing over. As a matter of fact, as Christians, that is exactly what we will do in eternity: worship Him obsessively, because only He is worthy of praise, honor, glory, and adoration. I once was a woman obsessed with food, and now I am a woman set free and obsessed with Jesus.

You can be, too. The struggle of eating is a stronghold that can capture anyone’s heart and mind, and the statistics reveal that it does. But Jesus is greater. He is the Maker of food, the Maker of our bodies, and the Healer of our broken minds. He took what could have taken my life and has used it to give life to others through the power of the gospel. Through forsaking my desire for perfection, I found the grace and hope of the Perfect One, and I’ve never been the same.

I am aware of the fact that there will be someone who will read this post who is now in the utter trenches of this stronghold and in total despair today. I was that woman! I spent hours googling Christian resources for overcoming an eating disorder, and to be honest, there weren’t many out there. Healing was found in the Word of God, through Christian counseling, and over time as God renewed my heart, mind, thoughts, and desires. It wasn’t an overnight change, but rather a change that took place over the years. This is the beauty of the gospel. We are completely covered by Jesus’ shed blood and made new, but we are also being changed daily into His likeness. For the woman deep in the struggle today: take heart, and lean into Jesus, one step at a time. Even a 1% change is change, and it is the good news of the gospel that will bring you through this, set you free, and make your story into a miracle of grace worth shouting from the rooftops, forever and always.

Captivated by Christ,

Gretchen

Contributors to the "Behind Closed Doors" series are sharing personal stories about sin, and the redemptive hope found in Christ within Christian community. Our mission at Well-Watered Women is to equip women with a deeper understanding and love for God's Word, and we also encourage women who are struggling to seek the help of biblical counselors and/or medical professionals. You are not alone!

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My desire for health, beauty, and worth was fueled by an incorrect image of who I was and who God is.

  1. Ashley Woods

    April 11th, 2019 at 5:59 pm

    Gretchen,

    I would HIGHLY recommend taking away details about what you ate in the middle of your eating disorder from this post. It can be EXTREMELY detrimental to anyone fighting an eating disorder. It’s similar to how damaging before and after photos are to those still in the trenches. Most if not all professional ED therapists/nutritionists would advise against this. I know it’s also not the point of your post but details like that are quite triggering for women struggling.

  2. Rachael Milner

    April 25th, 2019 at 4:27 pm

    Thank you, Ashley. We edited this post to remove any potential triggers as that is the opposite of Gretchen’s heart behind sharing her story!

  3. Janee White

    April 21st, 2019 at 3:47 am

    I… I don’t really know what to say, other this one was written for me.

    I’m the one hiding in the bathroom.
    I’m the one thinking my testimony is irreparable. I’m the one that in the trenches of this disorder and in deep DEEP despair.

    I’m the one who needed this. The one to find Jesus at rock bottom. (The Rock Bottom)

    Thank you. Thank you for your words of pain and sorrow, and healing and encouragement. I needed this.

  4. Rachael Milner

    April 25th, 2019 at 4:26 pm

    Janee, thank you for being honest here and acknowledging the place that you find yourself in currently. We are praying with you, sister! We pray for freedom from the chains that feel overwhelming and unbearable. We pray for bravery to seek counseling or help from a trusted mentor, pastor, counselor, or anyone else you can trust with the truth of your season. We pray the Lord brings healing and restoration to the broken parts of your heart that need His healing! -Rachael

  5. mommystrongtx

    May 2nd, 2019 at 7:56 pm

    I entered residential treatment for my ED on May 7, 2018. I can’t believe what all has happened in the past year, namely returning to the faith I had run from a decade earlier. (I call myself the prodigal daughter.) This has been an interesting week as I look at the past year and I just discovered this website today. I’m so grateful for this post. I’ve been trying to figure out how to work through my Christian faith with body image and diet culture/mentality. I will be on this website a lot now! Thank you!

  6. Amelia Granberg

    May 3rd, 2019 at 3:30 pm

    We’re so glad that you’ve returned to the Lord! What a blessing it is to come back home. 🙂 Hopefully we can continue to be an encouragement to you! -Bonnie

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