Behind Closed Doors: Food, Disordered Eating, and Surrender

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Behind Closed Doors: Food

April 4, 2019  - By Rachael Milner

So why haven’t I found a way to remedy this struggle? Because it’s not a one-and-done problem. It’s a daily surrendering of the heart. And it’s difficult to surrender something when you still have to keep it in your life day in and day out, isn’t it?

Disordered Eating

Every time I try to write this post, I feel inadequate because I struggle with the topic of food—every single day. For the longest time, I believed I would never struggle with an eating disorder because I just love food too much. I couldn’t imagine going an entire day without it. I still can’t. But over the past few years, I have become more and more aware that I struggle with disordered eating.

Where others may abstain from food to lose weight or achieve a certain goal, I run to it for comfort and joy. On sad days, I crave chocolate chip cookies. When I feel stressed, I just want a big glass of sweet tea from Chick-fil-A. When I am overwhelmed, I run to the pantry and eat whatever I can get my hands on, often mindlessly. Food has been an idol of my heart for most of my life, and I wish I could tell you the secret to completely escaping this stronghold. But I can’t. Because I haven’t found it yet, and we will never be totally free from the power and presence of sin this side of eternity.

I have found every way to diet that exists, often with little results before becoming discouraged and giving up. I have found every way to think negatively about myself without much reprieve from the sight I see in the mirror. I have found every way to hide my struggles from those I love most because I feel embarrassed to admit that I would rather turn to food than talk about the issues at hand. I have found every excuse in the book for why I cannot get control of this stronghold, and yet here I sit, sipping a Mr. Pibb and regretting my choices.

A Daily Struggle

So why haven’t I found a way to remedy this struggle? Because it’s not a one-and-done problem. It’s a daily surrendering of the heart. And it’s difficult to surrender something when you still have to keep it in your life day in and day out, isn’t it? Scripture is clear that if your right hand causes you to sin, you cut it off (Matthew 5:30). You get rid of the sin struggle entirely. But how do we do this with food if we need food to survive?

Therein lies the problem. I cannot quit food. But I can surrender food to the Lord. This is the piece of the puzzle that I’ve never been able to get right. Where I should be surrendering my idol, I’ve turned to alternative routes to try and manage it instead. I’ve dabbled in the extremes: turning to the Daniel Fast for a challenge to reset, giving up sweet tea entirely, picking up some extreme weight-loss plan that was never going to be sustainable … I’ve tried them all. I’ve failed at them all. And I’ve found myself wondering why I couldn’t simply follow the rules into a right relationship with food. As it turns out, at the end of the day, following the rules does not a healthy heart make.

Your body is a temple, dear girl. Honor the Lord with it.

It’s like getting liposuction or plastic surgery instead of picking up a habit of running and healthy eating. These and other quick fixes may help to align some of our habits, but the issue of idolizing food is rooted in the heart: it is based on the misguided belief that food can satisfy the hurting parts of us, and that creature comforts help more than delighting our souls with the Lord in the secret place.

Here’s the truth I am preaching to my heart, day in and day out, and I hope that it encourages you if you find yourself idolizing food or struggling to find a wise, obedient balance in your relationship with it:

  1. Your body (and mine) is a temple where the Spirit of God dwells (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). No longer do we need the Old Testament structure of the temple to allow us to enter the presence of God. 

His Spirit is dwelling in you as you read, and in me as I type. So what does that mean for us? If God was so concerned with the appearance and specifics of His temple in the Old Testament, why would we assume that He no longer cares how we treat our bodies, if indeed they serve as a place fit for Him to dwell? Romans 12:1 reminds us that when we treat our bodies as living sacrifices, this is true worship that delights the Father. What we put into our bodies matters. So on those days when you’re tempted to think, What does it matter? It does. We are called to care for the bodies that He created by hand (Psalm 139; 1 Corinthians 3:16–17, 10:31).

2. Every single choice I make aligns my heart with the Lord or with the Enemy (1 John 3:7–10). Because sin is of the devil but holiness is of Christ, my choices will shape me to be more like one or the other. So when I choose to sin, I am choosing willful disobedience against the Lord, and therefore doing the work of the Enemy. Now, this is hard to understand completely with food because there isn’t always a clear line of what is sinning and what is just eating. This distinction comes down to a prayerful and deliberate time of contemplation between you and the Father. For we have all been given freedom to eat and drink, yet we know not all things are beneficial for building up (1 Corinthians 10:23). So where do we draw this line?

There’s an old story about a man who walks up to greet a pastor after his sermon and asks, “If I want to follow Jesus, do I have to give up drinking?” and the pastor replies, “You do now!” Because that question revealed something in the man’s heart: that drinking (or insert your go-to comfort here) was not worth sacrificing to follow Christ. Drinking wasn’t the issue; it was the unwillingness to lay it down. So for me, those things I know in my heart are idols (read: sweet tea) I need to seriously evaluate why I am unwilling to give them up, then ask for the grace to let them go. If every choice can push me closer to the Lord or further away from Him, why would I hold on to those things that push me further from Christ?

3. Diets may fail you (or you may fail on a diet) but there are new morning mercies every single day (Lamentations 3:22–24). So on the days where you eat for comfort, don’t lose hope.

I am always tempted to just give up when I’ve made one poor food choice and fall back into a cycle of idolizing food. But what if instead, we fell on our knees and asked the Spirit to give us the self-control to choose the healthier way? What if we learned to think before we eat, rather than just numbing our cares with food? Here are some simple questions to ponder before you reach for those creature comforts:

  • Why am I eating this? If it’s because I am bored, sad, or discontent, I should grab some water and go for a walk. Getting outside of our thoughts is one way to actively surrender when we feel controlled by our whims and desires.
Every single choice I make aligns my heart with the Lord or with the Enemy (1 John 3:7–10). Because sin is of the devil but holiness is of Christ, my choices will shape me to be more like one or the other.
  • Is this good for me, or just something that is convenient? Have healthy options! It’s not evil to enjoy an occasional treat, but when that’s all that we have on hand, we are much more likely to choose things that are convenient but not at all good for us.
  • Am I going to regret this decision in an hour?
  • Is this something the Lord has made and given me freedom to enjoy, or is this junk that will not satisfy? I go back to this often: processed foods are not evil, but why would I not choose first the beautiful, fresh, luscious things God has given me from His earth to enjoy? I want to fill up on the substance He's provided, not the fluff the world has traded for nutrients and health.

 

Friends, the title of this post could be “I Am a Work In Progress and Do Not Have It Together … So I’m Preaching to My Own Heart.” But that would make for a really long title. I say all of this with heaping amounts of grace and gentleness as I am also reminding my own heart of these truths. The Lord has given you His Spirit to help you in your weakness, and He has invited you into the freedom of walking with Him when you want to turn to other things that will not satisfy. Cling to that hope today if you feel overwhelmed and hopeless when it comes to food. One day, one meal, one bite at a time, friends! Let’s lean into the Lord, walk in grace, and eat with a purpose to glorify God this side of heaven!

Your friend,
Rachael

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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How do we take the desire for food and turn it over to the Lord? We cannot quit food, but we can surrender it.

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  1. thecatholicfattie

    April 4th, 2019 at 3:03 pm

    First I want to thank you for talking about disordered eating. It is something dear to my heart that I believe is not talked about enough in our community. I would also like to call you in by noting that two comments stood out to me. When talking about making the healthy choices and not having processed food. Both of those seem to promote orthorexia and ableism. Processed food is not the issue, it is the intent behind eating the food like you said. Depriving yourself completely by refusing to have it in the house is a form or restriction and can actually lead to binging behaviors thus still feeding into eating disorders and not getting to the root of the sin.

  2. Rachael Milner

    April 18th, 2019 at 12:36 am

    Thank you so much for pointing these things out! I should definitely clarify that I DO have a lot of processed food in our home and do not restrict it completely. My problem is that I rarely ever have HEALTHY options to grab, so I find myself filling up on junk instead of giving myself some more positive options. I wanted to convey that I am trying really hard to aid in the process of healthier eating by choosing the things that are better for me, if that makes sense. I do appreciate you wanting to check in on that because any behavior can become problematic if not checked! -Rach

  3. Emma

    April 6th, 2019 at 8:14 pm

    This was such a helpful encouragement to evaluate whether or not I am still clinging/bowing down to/worshiping the idol of food.
    Thank you, Rachael, for sharing your thoughts and struggles with us, and for pointing us towards Christ, that we may further pursue a life of holiness. Keep submitting yourself unto His Lordship! <3

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