CW: suicide, eating disorders, self-harm, depression
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, you likely feel that you're in one of the most lonely and painful experiences of your life. Perhaps you feel abandoned and afraid, trapped in a cycle of numbing behaviors and shame. You might wonder where God is when you’re going through something so devastating.
Although eating disorders have been present throughout history (our earliest known records of EDs come from the 1100s), they are not a topic that is directly discussed in the Bible. That might make it hard to know for sure what God has to say about what you’re experiencing. However, even without eating disorders being explicitly mentioned, the Bible has a lot to offer when it comes to the emotional experience of being sick or in pain. (See: What are the signs of an eating disorder?)
Although every person’s experience is unique, there are a few commonly shared traits among sufferers of eating disorders that go much deeper than the fixation on food and body image. Most of those struggling with an eating disorder experience a sense of powerlessness and need for control, a drive to numb or escape trauma or painful life circumstances, and an intense focus on perfectionism. These are all things that the Bible can offer insight on.
One frequently shared element is a feeling of being helpless, out of control, or like a failure. The eating disorder feels like a way to try to reclaim that power.
The bitter irony is that the eating disorder’s promise of control turns out to be a false hope—an illusion of control that actually ends up with the eating disorder being the one in control, not you. One of the best ways to short circuit those lies is by embracing the truth that freedom is found in surrender not control.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” —Proverbs 3:5-6
Your eating disorder has created a confusing reality that constantly changes. This alternate reality is ultimately less stable than the things you might be trying to cope with or escape. God invites you to trust Him when you can’t trust yourself, can’t trust the way your thoughts or even physical sensations have been co-opted by this destructive force.
Maybe God's invitation to trust Him is terrifying right now. If you’ve had power taken away from you through life tragedy, abuse, bullying, neglect, or any other circumstances you can’t control, the thought of trusting anyone enough to surrender is scary. Yet, we must remember exactly to whom we are surrendering—the Maker of the universe, a heart we can know by looking at Jesus.
The eating disorder’s promises of security, safety, and control will always come with an ever-increasing list of demands. The promise of Jesus is much simpler: rest. “Come to me," Jesus tells us, "all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). To surrender to Him is to surrender to love, grace, and a redemptive hope that defies shame.
When the eating disorder is screaming in your ears to stay with it, surrendering to recovery is the most powerful thing you can possibly do. Engaging in the kind of behaviors that the eating disorder compulsively demands is the path of least resistance. The surrender that will save your life takes strength and courage, and God is right there to help you.
If you have endured abuse, poverty or homelessness, bullying, or other extreme situations where you were in danger, the sense of power and control that the eating disorder offers can seem so enticing. If you have been through trauma, your eating disorder likely served the very real purpose of making you feel strong and capable and like a survivor—and there is no judgment or shame for that. Contemporary research proves that, contrary to logic, many of our destructive coping mechanisms are actually our brains desperately trying to protect us. In the moment of crisis, the mind just gets stuck trying to cope in a harmful way.
God offers a truly safe haven for us when we're afraid or in anguish. Although there are no guarantees that following God will spare us from pain, He does promise to enter into that pain with us. The ultimate example of this was His choice to send Jesus to experience all of human life, even death, in solidarity with us. "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24).
You might be thinking, "There's no way God could be there with me, in the middle of what's been done to me or the things I've done." However, be assured that God loves us even at our darkest times; He refuses to look away from our pain. Instead, He offers tender arms to hold us. Psalm 139:7-12 put it so beautifully:
“Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.”
No matter what ugly and painful roads you’ve been forced to travel, no matter what you have done in order to survive: God walks with you still. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
If you tend towards being a perfectionist in other areas of your life, sometimes the eating disorder can become a brutal taskmaster, telling you that you have to follow all of its rules in order to be perfect.
Remember, even though the eating disorder was a coping mechanism in the past, it is a liar and cannot serve your long-term healing and growth as a person. Your eating disorder's requirements around food and your body are not trustworthy, and certainly not any kind of pathway to that elusive promise of perfection. Anyway, the fact is this: God does NOT call us to be perfect. He calls us to be HIS.
The Apostle Paul writes, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). This is the bewildering reality of grace: our weaknesses only serve to reveal the perfect love of Jesus. His perfect love is with us at all times.
This means that we do not have to be perfect. That’s God’s job, and He’s doing it with flawless faithfulness. All we need to do is show up, exactly as we are, and let God be who He is (Matthew 11). I hope that gives you freedom to breathe a sigh of relief.
This might all sound too good to be true or like it’s true about others but surely not about you. Maybe the narrative your eating disorder has been telling you criticizes everything about you as a person—both exterior and interior. Maybe it's been doing this for a very long time.
If you’re still in doubt, please take a moment to meditate on a few things God says about you, exactly as you are, on your best and worst recovery days:
You are free. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” —Romans 8:1-2
You are protected. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” —2 Corinthians 4:7-9
You are uniquely cherished. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” —Psalm 139:13-24
Most of those struggling with an eating disorder experience a sense of powerlessness and need for control, a drive to numb or escape trauma or painful life circumstances, and an intense focus on perfectionism. God invites you to trust Him when you can’t trust yourself (Proverbs 3:5-6), can’t trust the way your thoughts or even physical sensations have been co-opted by this destructive force. While an eating disorder promises security, safety, and control, it will always come with impossible demands. The promise of Jesus is simple: rest (Matthew 11:28). To surrender to Him is to surrender to love, grace, and a redemptive hope that defies shame.
Mary is a fan of stories about grace—whether they show up in writing, music, or photography form. She's been listening to and telling those stories as a professional writer for over 10 years. Mary is the founder and editor of Rock on Purpose, where she talks about rock music centered around truth and redemptive justice.