Eating Disorders: What to Look for and How to Help 

Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and pica (eating things that are not food—hair, ice, dirt, etc.) are just a few of the different types of disordered eating. Disordered eating defines the imbalance more clearly.

My observations and guidance come only from my personal experience. I am not a counselor, psychologist, or medical expert on these conditions, but rather one who struggled with this sin myself. Yep—you read that right! Worshiping anything other than God, who is the only one who can satisfy our deepest needs, is a sin. 

It has been 35 years since I underwent intensive treatment for anorexia. Thankfully, God used a secular treatment center to teach me how to eat, leading me to enjoy rather than avoid this very necessary part of life. 

God designed our bodies to require food. In fact, our physical appetite is a picture of the spiritual hunger placed in each one of us. We can’t go a day without food, except on a spirit-led fast, and we can’t go a day without God.

Soon after going through this healing process, I experienced deeper healing through the exchanged life of Christ and surrendering my life for His. Just as I had to trust the treatment center when they told me I would not get fat by following their guidelines, I must trust God daily as different opportunities come my way to look to other sources to meet my needs.

There are many options for empty satisfaction. After watching the destructive force of alcohol in my family line, I knew better than to take a sip in fear I just might like it. But one false god is no different from the other. 

Drugs, sex, shopping, serving, drinking, and eating, or not, offer an insatiable substitute for God Himself. Our attempts to fill a void or find comfort from pain with these replacements lead to addiction.

I walk with a limp today knowing food has the power to take me down. It is the tool the enemy has found that works. Following safe parameters provide guardrails against temptation. This is why I haven’t stepped on a scale in over three decades—the numbers always won no matter what they declared. Weight gain or loss governed my mindset keeping me in bondage. 

For me, sugar is the catalyst to a downward cycle just as a drink here and there is risky for a former alcoholic. It has taken years for me to learn how far I can go outside of the lines. For example, I can eat foods with some sugar, but a candy bar or piece of dessert is dangerous ground. I was told to avoid hot drinks as they satisfy those hunger pangs but can enjoy a cup of tea every morning. Chewing gum and ice had to go! There is no way to explain why some foods are “safe” while others are not but I had to listen to God’s Spirit leading me.

One may end up with this form of idolatry for many reasons, many of which are far from what we would consider sinful. Often, an eating disorder is another type of substance abuse. Self is the god, and food is the substitute form of comfort. Most who struggle with anorexia are good at performance; perfection is their favorite word. They may never seek these as the goal but have discovered satisfaction from both.

The root cause for the different types of oppression is often some kind of emotional pain or grief. 

Unknowingly, we believed comfort would come from some other source than God. So, if you or your child is experiencing pain and suffering, beware of the enemy’s attempt to enter in. He never plays fair.

6 signs of an eating disorder:

  1. Obsession with food and/or exercise
  2. Avoidance or indulgence of food
  3. Managing the menu or calories
  4. Intrigued by the latest diet: Whole 30, Paleo, and Intermittent fasting are all great and even provide healthy guidelines but must be managed with accountability.
  5. Discipline, self-control, perfection, and performance may disguise a real problem, even leaders with exemplary character can silently struggle.
  6. Isolation 

How to help:

  1. Seek God in meeting your deepest needs. He cares more than we do about us and our children and is able to give healing and deliverance.
  2. Make sure you are not filling life’s voids with unhealthy substitutions or “looking for love in all the wrong places.” Do you have a healthy relationship with food and exercise?
  3. Understand that the struggle is not against flesh and blood. Truly, the battle for our allegiance and affections is between God and Satan. I believe the enemy is the source of every addictive behavior. 

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

4. Because this is a spiritual battle, you must be wise in your fight against the enemy.  Before you say, pray. Expressing your fear and concerns to your child may backfire. Letting them know you have noticed their struggle may sadly and strangely cheer them on. Daily ask the Holy Spirit for his wisdom, ask Him when to speak, what to say, and when to remain silent. 

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).

5. Establish routine mealtimes with healthy, tasty meals. Drive-through dinners with fast food consumption should be the exception and not the norm.

6. Do not attempt to control or manage their eating as this will lead to secrecy. Those who have learned to control themselves are masters at controlling others. 

7. Be a safe place for your child. Learn how to actively listen.

8. Provide accountability with mentors. In the teenage years, these relationships allow someone in which to communicate their pain. Healing of the emotions will often lead to healing of the body.

9. Love and affirm your child. They may be seeking approval or attention that manifests itself in these unhealthy ways.

10. Get professional help for yourself and for your child.