What Does Jesus Say About Eating Disorders?
Do you know someone struggling with eating? Perhaps you are yourself. Emma Scrivener has known what it’s like to be the ‘perfect Christian’ yet struggle with an eating disorder; we asked her for some wisdom on how the church can respond to this increasingly prevalent issue:
What is at the root of most eating disorders?
There’s no one single cause but there are three main contributing factors:
- A certain personality type: liking order, having perfectionist tendencies and difficulty articulating feelings.
- Tough experiences: Bullying or family breakdown, for example.
- The Whirlpool Effect: Once a person starts losing weight dramatically by starving themselves, an internal high is caused which becomes addictive. Anorexia and bulimia are coping mechanisms so they can be hard to stop.
How can we, as a church family, best respond to those suffering?
Recognizing that Christianity has a high view of our bodies and teaching that we are to receive new physical bodies will also help.(Philippians 3:20-21).
We can encourage people to talk about their experiences and advise sufferers to visit their GP for professional support.
What would you say to those who think sufferers just need to ‘get a grip,’ or that if they had enough faith, prayer would heal them instantly?
We don’t assume someone with a broken leg will be healed instantly. We take them to hospital and pray for them too. The bible is full of people who struggle - that’s who Jesus speaks to. He loves people and stands with them, not leaving them where they are. Challenge those struggling when necessary but love them too.
An eating disorder is a mental sickness – it has elements that are bigger than the person themselves. Ask them ‘How can I help you?’
How much of a part do you think the media plays in contributing to eating disorders?
The media is a contributing factor, but not the only one. We live in the world but not of it so our response should be more than avoiding buying unhelpful magazines (John 17:14-16). The bible says to think about whatever is pure and lovely, so we can intentionally put good things into our minds (Philippians 4:8).
What does Jesus say is a healthy life? In Christ, we can focus on something much more beautiful. We downplay Jesus, thinking it’s cheesy to talk about Him; actually He’s incredible! If we don’t offer Him, what are we saying? Be better? Try harder? All the things we’re looking to the media for are fulfilled in Christ a miilion times more.
Are there things we as supporters should avoid saying or doing?
We tend to not say anything for fear of saying the ‘wrong’ thing. Instead, say ‘I don’t understand what this is but I love you; how can I help?’ Be willing to learn from books and the internet. Remember to focus on the person, not always food or weight.
In recovery, a person’s weight goes back to normal so we might think they’re better. But this is when they need help most because they’re not relying on the same stress mechanisms. Emotions will be coming up and they could be feeling worse than ever.
Be a friend and support their family. Encourage them to talk as a way of channeling their feelings. It takes time – there might well be some backward steps, but that’s okay. Most of all, pray.
What is the first step to recovery for someone in this position?
Admitting the problem themselves is the first step to recovery.
Are there any bible verses that have encouraged you on your journey to full healing?
Revelation 5 & 6: God is the Lion - He has control of everything, so I can trust Him; yet He’s also the Lamb that was slain – so He understands our weakness.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10: In our weakness, God’s power makes us strong.
Revelation 3:20: Jesus stands at the door, willing to come in to our situation. He will come in and eat with us if we ask Him to; we’re never alone.
Read more from Emma on her website A New Name.