Women are generally characterized as talkers, feelers, expressers—it doesn’t take much for us to connect through conversation and spill some of our most secret fears and doubts. But there are some struggles that go unspoken because they feel too shameful to share. Even me, who has prided myself on being authentic and transparent in my relationships, I have kept a secret from many close friends.
“Hi, I’m Jenn and I have an eating disorder.”
Years ago I fell into a pit of despair that led me to seek worldly comfort for my pain. I needed Jesus, but I substituted Him for food and TV. I am a binge eater. People might not categorize binge eating as a true eating disorder, but if you love Jesus, and you struggle with binge eating, then you know that when you fall into that addiction, you have made an idol out of food and of numbing yourself. You have chosen to no longer engage with the world that Jesus has called us to embrace, but you are withdrawing, turning into yourself and hiding from all that ails you. Instead of daily turning your anxieties and cares over to Jesus, you are running as far away from that pain as you can get.
It took me a while to realize that I was a slave to this behavior. Leaving my office most nights in 2009, I drove home in an agitated state, weary from a humiliating day at a job that left me feeling defeated, discouraged and hopeless. Honestly, I was angry at God for putting me in that position, for taking me away from a career that promised worldly prestige and respect and leaving me in a job that I felt was beneath me. Despite my silent yelling in my head that today I would NOT do what I had been doing, my car seemed to drive to the store with a mind of its own. My body opened the car door, walked into the store, and found what I had in my mind’s eye. On any given day, it could have been donuts, cookies, candy, chocolate, chips—you name it—it had at some point been on my binge list.
As you can see, my body and mind were slaves to a habit that momentarily alleviated my anxiety and stress. I found comfort in food. The pain I created in my stomach by filling it to an overfull state allowed me to displace the emotional pain I was feeling and often to feel totally emotionally numb during my binging episodes. What would surely follow each binge was an overwhelming amount of guilt and regret along with promises to myself that I would never do that again. The sad thing is that the guilt and regret created more anxiety and pain in my life that pushed me deeper and deeper into this disorder. I began to hate myself. As Paul says in Romans 7:15 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
In the midst of this struggle, I found myself cursing God for making me who I was. Why did this have to be the thorn in my side? Couldn’t I struggle with something less embarrassing? I kept asking myself why God had made me this way. Why did I not have discipline or the strength to overcome this addiction?
“But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me this way?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” (Romans 9:20-21)
No one in my life knew this behavior was going on. I had no exterior symptoms. I gained a nominal amount of weight, but otherwise seemed healthy. My shame kept me from divulging my secret, and so it was my heart and mind that were really carrying the burden of this disease.
The first time I attempted to slow down my binge, I made myself walk down every aisle at the store before I purchased my fix. My body and mind were so tired after this simple slow down of my routine that I had to come home and take a nap immediately. My addiction was so strong that the simple act of slowing down the binge completely exhausted me. No matter how often I had tried to stop myself from binge eating before on my own, I could not control the impulse. No matter how many times I told myself I would never do it again, the next day my body would take over my mind and involuntarily I would binge eat again.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
By God’s grace, the Holy Spirit gently, but persistently demanded that I stop my binging; He was calling me out of slavery and into the glorious freedom that only Christ can provide. I knew, rationally, that the life I was leading—of secretly eating obscene amounts of food while watching TV—was not the full life that Christ died on the cross for me to live.
And in His sovereignty, our church was studying a book about the seven deadly sins—one of which happens to be gluttony. The book, despite its very different definition of gluttony, allowed me to have an open conversation with my best friend about my binging struggle. I told her that I knew that gluttony was the deadly sin with which I struggled the most, and she asked me to tell her how I knew that. Slowly the full story came out and there was no judgment, no condemnation—simply a kind response that pointed me to the truth. That confession was the beginning of my journey toward healing. God prompted me, through my friend and this book, to step out of the darkness and into the light.
“He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.” (1 Corinthians 4:5)
In her wisdom, my friend encouraged me to meet with our pastor, who connected me with a counselor. As I started my journey toward recovery, the Lord challenged me to deal with the many underlying issues contributing to my disorder—perfectionism, self-reliance, the need to control, anger, anxiety and unrealistic expectations.
Among the many important lessons learned from walking through this disorder, I have learned that speaking openly about my trials invites God and others to step into my struggle and to help me find my way back to the straight path that God has prepared for me. Sharing my shameful secret—first with my friend, then a pastor, then my therapist—diminished the power that my eating disorder had over me. Sharing my most shameful struggle allowed God’s work in my heart to truly begin.
The final truth about eating disorders is that they are an addiction. When God began to heal me from my disorder, I had true physical withdrawals, like any addict would. And in the same way that an alcoholic, or anyone seeking sobriety for that matter, takes life one day at a time, so too do those of us recovering from eating disorders. And the truth is, I still have to fight the temptation to seek comfort in food. I won’t declare total victory over this disorder until the day when Jesus calls me home and He claims victory over all of my sin. But each day is a new opportunity to take captive every thought, to make choices that glorify God and to treat my body like the temple that it is, showing myself grace for my mistakes and seeking God’s strength to do better next time.
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
Jenn Ripley is a writer, editor, educator and mom who lives in Austin, Texas. She has a passion for biblically-sound, inspiring writing, and is very humbled and grateful to be a part of the Christian writing community. Connect with Jenn on Facebook or reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rebecca Konyndyk Deyoung, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their
Remedies (Grand Rapids, Mich: Brazos Press, 2009).