[Author’s Note: This article is specifically meant for women who know that their friend struggles with disordered eating, meaning this friend has trusted you enough to share this part of her story with you. If you have a friend who you suspect struggles with disordered eating but she has not explicitly disclosed this to you, there are resources available for how to start those conversations. A couple of trustworthy ones are www.nationaleatingdisorders.org and www.eatingdisorderhope.com.
An eating disorder is a medical diagnosis that must fit certain criteria. Disordered eating, on the other hand, is a descriptive phrase that refers to a variety of irregular eating behaviors, such as frequent dieting or feelings of guilt or shame associated with eating. A person can experience disordered eating and not be officially diagnosed with an eating disorder.]
Loving a Friend Through an Eating Disorder
Daisy* was my youth group leader when I was in middle school. In my adolescent eyes, she was the coolest, most beautiful person I had ever met. Daisy was (and still is) kind, funny, and knowledgeable about both the Bible and Broadway. The slumber parties she used to host for the girls in her Bible study involved little sleep and lots of sugar. Even though she had to remind us to go to bed multiple times a night during church retreats, Daisy always treated our small group of high-strung preteen girls with patience and compassion.
About a year before Daisy became an important part of my life, she began the long road to healing from disordered eating. I had no idea that this young woman I looked up to so much, someone who helped me grow in my relationship with Jesus, was fighting a difficult battle with her own body.
Your Friend’s Struggle is Unique
Recently, when I sat down to talk with Daisy about her experience, she shared some of the unhelpful comments or statements well-meaning people have made. Here are a few of them:
“But I see you eat! You must be making this up for attention.”
“You don’t look like you have an eating disorder.”
“Have you tried [insert nutritional advice here]?”
“Didn’t you already go through counseling for this? Why are you doing it again when you know better?”
Comments like these can inflict greater pain and confusion in the already gaping wound of a friend. The reality is that disordered eating can affect a woman of any body type and in any season of life, and it is not necessarily something they engage in daily or for every meal.
Disordered eating habits are also incredibly hard to fight. Because eating is a necessary part of life, your friend has to face her fear multiple times a day. Disordered eating impacts both her body and brain, so recovery is incredibly difficult.
Our friends don’t need a long list of things to do and change; they need to be seen and loved for who they are—an image-bearer of God. They need a friend who will talk with them (not at them), showing them the same grace and compassion we have received through Christ.
Your Friend’s Struggle is Not Just About Body Image
A common misconception about disordered eating is that it is only about body image. The general belief is that someone with an eating disorder is unhappy with their appearance, so they develop harmful habits to try to lose weight.
While body image can certainly play a role in the development of disordered eating, it is rarely the only or even the most important instigator. Trauma, relational or cultural influences, other mental health disorders, and genetic predisposition all contribute to the development of eating disorders.
Your Friend Needs to Know She is Loved and Valued
Because mental health is a major component of disordered eating, it’s vital we pay careful attention to the language we use when speaking to friends who struggle in this way. If someone you love has shared that she deals with disordered eating, she likely understands that these behaviors aren’t healthy. The last thing she needs is to have more shame heaped on her. She needs to hear truth, encouragement, and acknowledgment of her struggle, and she needs your companionship every step of the journey. If you’re struggling with what to say, begin with connection and ask how you can be there for her on her road to recovery.
One of the most impactful conversations Daisy ever had took place the summer she was my youth intern. Although she was seeking help from a licensed counselor, she was unsure if she should still serve by leading a small group at church. She went to a trusted church leader, shared her struggle, and asked for wisdom on whether or not she should still lead.
Instead of confirming her fears, this church leader affirmed the value Daisy brought to the ministry. They assured her that this part of her life didn’t disqualify her from being able to care for young women well. In fact, this person pointed out that her struggle actually gave her a unique ability to empathize with girls who may be dealing with the same battle (2 Cor. 1:3–6).
Daisy left this conversation encouraged rather than belittled. The grace her church leader showed gave her a greater understanding that God could redeem this painful part of her story. It was no longer just about her. It was about what God could do through her to bring his love and healing to others. He could turn her shame into glory.
Now to Him: A Story of Freedom
If you look closely at Daisy’s wrist, you will see two curved lines with eight tiny dots. This small tattoo has a big meaning. It symbolizes Daisy’s recovery from her twelve-year battle with disordered eating, which she has been living in freedom from for over six years now.
Above the symbol are the words “now to him”—a reference to Jude 24–25: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
In counseling, Daisy was encouraged to have truth to tell herself readily accessible for when she felt tempted to give in to disordered eating behaviors. The truth Daisy clung to came directly from Scripture. She repeated the words “now to him” when she was in recovery and feeling tempted. These words became a sword of truth she wielded to fight the lie that her disorder had power over her and that it was impossible to overcome.
As the years passed, this phrase took on more meaning from another verse: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…” (Eph. 3:20, NIV). Now that Daisy is living in freedom, she is training to help others fighting similar battles. She tells me that she is constantly amazed at how God has used her story, and she is immensely grateful for friends who loved and encouraged her when she was in the battle trenches.
Love Your Friend by Reminding Her Who She Is
What your friend who struggles with disordered eating needs is someone who will assure her that no matter how long she has been fighting this enemy, no matter how hopeless the war with her own body may feel some days, she is already free in Christ (2 Cor. 3:17).
She needs a friend who will celebrate the strength she has shown just by choosing to pursue the hard path toward wholeness and who will wrap her in their arms and cry with her when she falls into old habits that feel impossible to break (Rom. 12:15).
What she needs most of all is a friend who will remind her that her identity is not—and never has been—her eating disorder. Her identity is secure in Christ. As a beloved daughter of God, the Father holds her in his everlasting arms, and she has eternal hope. Walk with her as she heals, joining her in praising God for his redemption and restoration every step of the way.
*pseudonym used for privacy
Meet the Author
Kati Lynn is a writer and artist whose deepest hope is that the stories she tells will draw other women closer to the heart of God. She loves to explore the intersection of faith, mental health, and media in her writing. You can keep up with Kati Lynn by signing up for her newsletter.