I spent an extended period of my life working to overcome my eating disorders. I went to great lengths to practice self love and self care and implement certain disciplines in order to overcome anorexia, bulimia, and orthorexia. Yet nothing truly seemed to work. I found myself shifting from one form of eating disorder to another obsessing over my body continually.
I have recently had paradigm shifting mindset when it came to me fighting my eating disorders. It sounds crazy yet makes perfect sense. While my body image and “self love” and level of discipline are arguably the problem to some more shallow level, these things never touched the root problem. In addressing simply the way I perceived my body and the ways in which I abused it, I was blindly hacking away at the branches of my problem instead of pulling it out by the roots.
My eating disorders was not my real problem. My real problem was my obsessive need for control and my eating disorders were my solution to this problem.
Please hear me out. Eating disorders are serious. They’re a life threatening problems that come with a host of unwanted side effects and damage. But I would like to argue that simply addressing the eating disorder itself may sometimes be a temporary, shallow solution. You may be plucking leaves and leaving the root in the ground so that it might sprout up again.
This is what I did. I started in my teenage years seeing how little I could eat. I knew I needed to address that so I began eating more normally. Then in college I began a vicious cycle of binging and purging. When I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs anymore because I had so little in me, I began the work to stop (though I continued with it for several more years in secret). Soon I began eating again therefore gaining weight. I started a crazy exercise routine that would lead me to high intensity exercise six to seven days a week on minimal caloric intake. I had a cycle of plucking leaves which always led to the root growing back in one form or another.
I never faced why I had an eating disorder. Sure I told myself I wanted to be pretty and liked and I associated those things with being thin. Yet even when I came to terms that all bodies are beautiful and a man should like you for more than eye candy, I found myself still reaching for a skipped meal, a pint of ice cream, or one more run.
I have a compulsive need for control. I don’t like variables. I don’t like uncertainty. I don’t like lacking stability. Yet, I remember back when I was really young I was free flowing! I loved hanging out with people and I had so much confidence with them. I was still stubborn and liked having things my way but it wasn’t nearly so catastrophic when they didn’t go my way. But then something clicked in my young teenage years. I wanted things planned. If a variable happened that I didn’t account for, it would set me off. I always wanted people to like me but never felt confident in myself. I felt I had to morph into something people would like. I felt a desperate need for control.
I never knew what it was that made that click happen. Actually, I never wanted to face it. Prior to my eating disorders, we left a church that we had been at as long as I could remember. As a homeschool student, my only friends were at this church. It was a messy, painful parting. Most of my friends I didn’t see again until five or more years later if ever. It spiraled my parents into a hard point in their marriage. We began a series of church hopping that would last until I moved out then had the option to not go to church anymore. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not angry with my parents; the church began preaching topics that were contrary to the bible and most people left. But this was one of the most unstable times in my life. I know its not much compared to some, but for an eleven year old girl who’s life was built on this church, everything came crashing down around me.
I grew a great hate for uncertainty and a passionate love for control. But at that age, what could I control? I could control my body. I could control the way I looked. Having few friends, I just wanted to be pretty and liked. I wanted boys to notice me, a plain, weird, homeschool kid. From the influence of the women around me and media, I began to associate being liked with being pretty and being pretty with being skinny. That’s where my downward spiral started.
It’s easier for me to hack away at my eating disorders than to face this root. I don’t want what seems like such a simple thing in my past to have such a big hold on me and a big hurt in me. I don’t want my control to be a problem and I certainly don’t want to give it up. I don’t want to admit that I question the sovereignty of God and that I think his plans aren’t as good as mine. I don’t want to trust anything or anyone that I can’t personally control.
Yet, I find freedom in surrender.
When I give up my control to the God who is there, I find I no longer need to skip meals. When I set my feet to follow his plans instead of mine, I lack the desire to make myself throw up. When I say, “I’m significant, but God is sovereign,” I can skip a workout. In believing what God says in Isaiah 55:8-9 that his ways are higher than mine, I find freedom in lack of control. By addressing my root problem of control and surrendering my ways, I find victory over this weed.
This sounds so easy in a paragraph. Yet in my daily life it is the hardest thing I have to give up. I still battle and struggle. I still want to think that I know it all and that my ways are best. And I still falter and become neurotic about every morsel that enters my mouth. I still can want to go back to numbing my pain of lack of control with eating disorders.
But when this burden becomes too much for me to bear, Jesus is waiting. He’s calling me to surrender. He’s telling me I don’t have to live like this anymore. In Matthew 11:28-30 he says, “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” As much as I want to control it all, I find rest in letting God do his job and following him.
For a long time, even when I understood that my eating disorders were a result of my control problem, I tried to hide them. I didn’t want others to see my brokenness. I didn’t want my hurt and vulnerability to be viable. This was another reach for control.
Yet, I find healing in confession.
This is also something I’ve recently learned. I thought I could keep all my ugly just between God and myself. If I tell him and repent, I’ll be forgiven and life will be good. To be sure, I am forgiven. But in hiding my scars, even the ones I gave myself, I also hid me from healing.
James 5:16 says, “therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” By hiding, I missed out on the healing God wants for me. In any problem or addiction, we feel alone. We don’t think anyone is battling this too. But we are never alone. Good, goldy counsel is necessary for healing and pulling out the root problems in our lives. Without it, we will likely perpetually be whacking away at leaves.
I want you to take away two things from this blogpost. First, the problem you think you have might be a surface level problem that you are using as a “solution” to your real problem. Dive deep and sit with God to face the uncomfortable issues in your life. Second, don’t go at it alone. Foremost you need God and absolutely cannot do it without him. He is also has given us others to be in relationship with them and help one another find healing. There is freedom within your reach but not within your own control. There is healing coming but it won’t come by you alone.