The following post is written by my dear friend, Emily Riley. I asked her recently to share her story of redemption from an eating disorder. Women and men all over the world struggle with weight and having an incorrect body image. Most people struggle with disordered eating, but never tell anyone of the hidden bondage. We easily hide our image struggles behind a guise of “healthy eating,” exercise, and even self confidence, when on the inside we are aching and in a prison. It is my desire to bring light to this dark, hidden area. I, too, have struggled with an eating disorder and have found immense freedom that can only be found in Christ alone (read my story here). As we open up our hearts vulnerably, I pray that Jesus would shine brightly and lead others into a life of freedom and authenticity.
The word authenticity, I am terrified by it and desire it and deeply it at the same time. There is a certain depth of humanness that comes to someone who is described as being authentic. The word is descriptive of someone who is fully known, genuine, and real to their community and environment. Authenticity brings a new height of exposure to the light. The Light of the Gospel exposes the darkest places of our hearts and causes us to pursue the depths of authenticity. For we are exposed by the light of the Gospel, and the darkness will have no place in light.
For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true. Ephesians 5:8
As I share my story, my genuine desire is to bring glory to the God who sets us free from the darkness that our human souls crave to hide within. You and I may not be able to come from the same story or background, but we all come from a place of need, a place where we desire to be fully known, yet fully loved. This need can only truly be satisfied by a good and perfect Savior.
Over the past two years, I have been on a journey of exposure. As photographic film needs to be exposed to light to find its true beauty, we all need to be exposed by the light of the Gospel to truly experience freedom and fruitfulness in Jesus Christ.
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful to even to speak of the things they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Ephesians 5:11-14
As a child, I was completely unaware of my body. I loved food and enjoyed the freedom that comes with being unaware of what a calorie means, or how my metabolism works for my body to function properly. I would enjoy candy, chips and sweets, going back for seconds, thirds, sometimes even fourth trips to taste and experience the feeling of fullness. During my elementary years, my parents decided that we should be homeschooled as a beginning to our spiritual foundation. Our meal times were based off of I Love Lucy reruns and Arthur. My mind was guarded from the world during this time, so I never even stopped to think of food as anything more than nourishment that tasted delicious. In my middle school years, my parents made the decision that public school would be the best option for me because I was such a social child. I was thrilled to be able to get in a school lunchroom, with divided trays and square pieces of pizza. My sixth and seventh grade year was full of new friends and a new identity as a public school student. I never wanted to leave school in the afternoons, the thrill of getting to live out my Lizzie McGuire dreams in public school was almost too much for me to handle.
After my seventh grade year ended, I begin to notice that I was “bigger”, “taller”, and did not have the typical body that most of my friends possessed as a middle school student. From this belief pattern, I began to desire to exercise. I would walk around our neighborhood, committed to a healthy dose of 30 minutes a day of exercise. What began as an innocent thought to “get healthy”, transformed into a ten year long struggle with body image, weight, and extreme abuse of my body through exercise. I never expected an innocent thought to “get healthy” and have a “body like my friends” would turn into pattern of disordered eating and an unhealthy relationship with my body.
Although the desire for health and wellness is a good thing, the enemy can twist your thoughts to believe that your worth and beauty comes not from the beauty of the Gospel, but from your body weight, physical appearance, and the acceptance of others. This is exactly the lies I have believed over the last decade of my life.
Walking through my high school years, the bondage to my body image continued to be my hidden secret. I was highly involved in my high school and well-liked, yet I was living in bondage of lies that I would never be good enough or pretty enough to be truly known and accepted. I slowly began to try to hide deeper and deeper. I would hide from meals, from people, from the Lord. I never realized that the lies that I believed about my worth would grow deep roots into my identity and be used by the enemy as a way to blind my eyes to truth.
Fast forward to college, I had such a wonderful experience with friends, pledging a sorority, and continuing to serve the Lord through this season. I was involved in my church, teaching Sunday school, volunteering with the youth, and investing in my college ministry. Yet, I was still hiding. Hiding under this struggle that no one knew about, I even believed I could hide this from the Lord. This was who I was, “just overly healthy, disciplined with food, and always exercising”. Throughout my time in college, I had various mentors, friends, and family members confront me about my eating and exercise habits. But I stood in full denial that I struggled in any way with food or exercise. To me, I viewed it as their problem. How could they possibly think I had an issue with food and exercise? Again, such a lie from the enemy to twist the truth of the Gospel.
The Lord placed a deep desire for Nashville in my heart beginning as a sophomore at Auburn University. I have no idea why. I prayed and asked the Lord to direct my path, and two weeks after graduating from college, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee. With a dream job and a college degree in hand, nothing was holding my back from living out my dream in this new city. The Lord blessed me with incredible roommates, a church, and community, and this is where the exposure of my heart began.
Living in a new city, not knowing anyone, and struggling with identity issues at the same time certainly is not something I would suggest to anyone, but this season has become one of the hardest, yet most refining two years of my life. When I moved to Nashville, a tiny apartment with two wonderful roommates was my new home and suddenly there was no more hiding. With the ability to stand in the kitchen and see every room, living room, dining room, and porch, my hiding places slowly diminished and my struggle started coming to the light.
My roommates and I loved sitting in the living room, discussing rich conversations about the Gospel and how Jesus was working in our lives. One night, I was struggling in the midst of the deep confusion of identity, true beauty, and mind games with the enemy. The truth of the Gospel began to shine when my roommates confronted me about my behaviors and attitudes with food and exercise. In a loving, yet truthful way, they expressed their concern for me and wanted to know how they could help me.
Me? I have a problem? I am
supposed to be perfect, look perfect and act perfect. All the time. I could never struggle with anything; they must just be jealous of my healthy habits and disciplined eating. Looking back on this night now, I see now that this moment was the beginning of me running from the light. I did not want to be exposed, so I hid deeper into the struggle, disconnected from community in fear of people knowing or seeing me as someone who struggled in this way.
My thoughts were so confused. Why are people telling me that I need help? I do not need help? I am healthy! Well, my appearance may have been healthy, but I certainly had a mind that was consumed with lies that were filling my every thought. I did not want to talk to anyone about it, I was so filled with shame and guilt that this was something I struggled with. I was supposed to be perfect and beautiful! If I gave up control over these things, I would become imperfect, overweight, and ugly.
One day, I had a friend visit me in Nashville. I knew of her past and that she had a passion for nutrition and healthy eating. During our coffee date, I began to confess to her this struggle with identity, body image, and food. She poured Truth into my life and encouraged me to go to a nutritionist who could help me learn more about nutrition and what my body needs, not just what I thought my body needed in order to stay a certain size. The size of perfection. Or what I thought was perfection. Per her wisdom, I began to see a nutritionist in Nashville who was a believer in Jesus. She began to help me through the lies about food I had believed for so long and helped me to see the beauty of struggling in hopes of the redeeming power of the Gospel.
Throughout my journey, I had various people pouring into my life. One day at church, one of my precious roommates and I taught a small group of youth girls at a small church plant in Nashville. We were walking through the book of Colossians and happened to be sitting in the second chapter: See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. Colossians 2:8. My roommate went on to mention that those who struggle with body image and eating disorders have truly been deceived by the human traditions of this world. They have believed that this desire for perfection in their outer appearance will gain them worth, significance, and identity. This was a huge turning point in my healing process, it finally clicked with me that I had treating my body a certain way because my identity was rooted in the approval of man and not in the Gospel. May I be shaped by the mirror of the Gospel, not the mirror of the world or perfection by human standards.
I am still on this journey of healing and learning about what healthy looks like in terms of living day to day in recovery from disordered eating habits and over exercise. The beauty of this season is that the one thing that I was scared of for so long, has brought so much freedom and joy in the deepest, darkest struggle of my life. For I am exposed, I am known, and I am loved. This is the beauty of the Gospel.
(above photos taken by our lifestyle photographer, Katherine McBroom)
My desire in sharing my journey is at not at all to bring glory to myself, but to bring glory to Jesus, who has redeemed my heart and my mind through this struggle. If you find yourself in the midst of a similar journey, I would encourage you to seek out a mentor and share your struggle. Once you expose the darkness, light will fill the empty spaces with an overwhelming sense of identity and purpose. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to share scripture, books, and resources that really ministered to throughout the journey.