Five of the Most Prevailing Eating Disorder Myths –

Five of the Most Prevailing Eating Disorder Myths –

If we are going to alter how eating disorders are viewed inside the Church, we must start by changing what we believe about these illnesses. My heart is not only to see women who have had eating disorders walk in complete freedom, but also that the Christian community would rise to the occasion and be a safe place for women (and men) who are ready for recovery.

There is very little in the way of Christian eating disorder recovery resources and it honestly breaks my heart. It seems to be the case that we want to place this “burden” on people ‘outside the gate’ (so to speak) rather than acknowledging that eating disorders can and do affect people in all walks of life. Even Christians and that as Christians, our calling is to preach the Gospel to the world. It is the very task the Lord left us.

Listen, I love the church. I have grown in the church, I have church friends who are more like family, worshiping on Sunday mornings is one of my favorite things. I attend a weekly Bible study and volunteer in the children’s ministry.

The church in many ways is good.

But in so many ways we are missing the mark. One of them, is in this way of loving on and ministering to women (and men) who are afflicted with eating disorders.

I have never stepped foot into a church that preached on eating disorders, nor have I attended a Bible study shared on this topic. I have on the other hand, legitimately had Christian people tell me, that this is not a needed area of ministry. In their very words… people who have eating disorders are prideful sinners (in their mind these disorders are a disease of vanity…). I also not so long ago, read a Christian book (…a Christian book) that used the term “scarf and barf” when “teaching” on bulimia.

Lord, have mercy

My heart aches for those dear ones who are in need of Jesus to set them free of their chains. The body of Christ (the Church) has in so many ways turned our backs on these. And I am pretty confident in saying it is grieving the heart of God as well.

Let’s start the conversation of how to fix this problem first by admitting we have a problem and next by righting our thinking regarding eating disorders. As we discuss these five myths, you will see shards of truth. Isn’t it just like the enemy to add a pinch of truth to his lies so that we are more apt to believing them. So that we are more prone to passing judgment and causing people to continue hurting in isolation. What a powerful way for the enemy to ‘steal, kill and destroy…’.


Myth number 1 – Eating disorders are only ever a sin issue.
We are told in 1st Corinthians 6 that our bodies are temples of God and must be treated as such.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

We were bought with a price.

Actions such as restriction, bingeing and/or purging do not keep this command. Eating disorders are hurting the physical body and in turn hurting the very temple of God.

We distance ourselves from our Father when we turn to other ways of coping rather than running into His arms.

Therefore, eating disorders are in a sense sinful.

But, I don’t want us to stop there. We can’t stop there. While we must acknowledge the sin issue present, we must also realize that we live in a broken world. Women (and men) turn to coping mechanisms such as eating disorders, not because it sounds like the next best thing, but because they are hurting and looking for a solution. I want us to hold both the fact that they are a sin issue and the truth that they originate in brokenness. I want us to realize that there very likely may be a genetic or biological aspect to eating disorders at play as well…both of these truths lead us into our next myth.

Myth number 2 – Eating Disorders are a choice
If you have never personally had an eating disorder (or walked a loved one through their illness) it may be really easy for you to chalk it all up to choice. You may not understand why someone cannot then choose to stop, why they cannot “just eat”.. why someone would continue with behaviors that are obviously detrimental … why someone would have even chosen to turn to an eating disorder in the first place. From the outside, it’s easy for it all not to make much sense.

This myth of choice could be (and has been) very hotly debated. In the one sense eating disorders are not such as cancer or other diseases that truly are not a choice; but in an entirely different and very real sense neither are eating disorders.

Stick with me…

“After hearing this misconception, the founder of UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders stated, “Those of us who have been in the field working with these people realize no one would ever choose to develop this illness.””*

The truth to be found in this myth is that someone has to make a choice to restrict calories, binge and/or purge for the very first time. That is a choice. However, just like with addictive substances, there are people who can try something once and completely walk away without it being an issue and other people who get sucked into the depths.

There is also a biological and genetic aspect of eating disorders to consider.

“Although environment definitely plays a role, recent research has shown that between 40 and 60 percent of the vulnerability to develop an eating disorder is due to genetic factors.”*

By the time someone is involved enough in an eating disorder to either be diagnosed or to start seeing problems crop up in their life, they are no longer in control of making a choice to stop on their own. Their illness has become bigger than them.

I looked my own mother in the face as a sophomore in college and told her I didn’t care if I died as long as I died a bulimic. Not because I really wanted to die but because I did not know how to stop. The addiction of my eating disorder had become too big for me to fight.

Our role then is to show these Image Bearers that freedom is possible. We must meet people where they are and love them to Jesus, not by throwing a stone or Jesus band-aid at them and wishing them well, but by being willing to get down into the mire with them and show them the way out. By weeping with those who weep, but by making sure we are doing what we can to lead them in the way of rejoicing.

Eating disorders may not be a choice, but recovery certainly is!

Myth number 3 – You can tell if someone has an eating disorder by simply looking at them
The stereotypical image of eating disorders shared by the media is of someone who is emaciated. The sobering truth is that this stereotype keeps many from getting the help they need. Those who do not believe they are “sick enough” to seek treatment because they do not fit the “image” of an eating disorder may very well not tell anyone. This of course only goes to further their illness.

Of note … when using diagnostic criteria, only one of the currently eight recognized (by the DSM-V) disorders has a weight loss aspect. These disorders do not discriminate, they strike people from all walks of life, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic backgrounds, ages and both genders.

Myth number 4 – Eating Disorders are only ever about food
It is common for women (and some men) to become concerned about their appearance, weight, and health from time to time. The difference in what is common and what leads to an eating disorder is that for some, this concern becomes an obsession. As previously stated, eating disorders are serious biological, mental and physical health issues. While food/eating is a major contributor it is not all these disorders are about.

The reasoning behind eating disorders is complex and nuanced. While not always about physical hunger, eating disorders are often about emotional hunger and the lack of sustenance to fill the voids.

This is where recovery comes in. We point people to Jesus as the Only One ever able to fill the void of the human heart.

Chains fall off in the light of His presence. We are made whole as our hunger falls by the wayside.

Church stand up, hear my cry to be the hands and feet of Jesus. This is fertile ground.

Myth number 5 – Eating Disorders are a lifelong battle
Having treatment available that is personalized and thorough is paramount in finding freedom. We have to treat the underlying issues in order for the disorder to lose its grip, in order for individuals to walk in freedom. It is not enough to offer solely human help. This is where secular eating disorder recovery falls short.

The Only One able to restore and redeem is Jesus Christ.

The second most crucial part of recovery is having a strong support system. This is part of why I am so passionate about Christian eating disorder recovery. Having support within the church is huge. Pointing people who may not yet know Christ, to Christ, is life changing. Life changing and eternity changing. Kingdom shaking.

We are making an impact on the Kingdom when we do the work of setting people free by preaching the Gospel.

It is my hope that while you are now able to better understand the serious nature of these disorders, you also feel the importance of bringing this ministry into the church.

Where there is Hope, there is Freedom.


Citations

“Is an Eating Disorder a Disease?” Seeds of Hope, 7 Oct. 2021, https://seedsofhope.pyramidhealthcarepa.com/the-disease-of-an-eating-disorder-is-not-a-choice/.


Bulik, Cynthia. “A Better Understanding of Eating Disorders and Genetics.” Health Talk, 3, March, 2021, https://healthtalk.unchealthcare.org/a-better-understanding-of-eating-disorders-and-genetics/

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