Dear Youth Ministers, Don’t Be Afraid to Talk to Your Students About Eating Disorders 

Although I’m now in my 20s, I spent six years of my life in youth group. I attended a biblically solid church with a biblically solid youth group. I heard about “living on mission” more times than I can count. My youth minister was passionate about teaching students to treat their lives like a mission field and to follow God’s call to be evangelists wherever they went. 

However, I can’t recall one time when my youth minister—or any of my youth leaders for that matter—broached the topic of eating disorders. Though I didn’t notice the avoidance of this topic at the time, it feels quite glaring now, due to my struggle with anorexia before college and my subsequent years of recovery.

Spiritual Struggle

I’m not criticizing my youth minister or other youth leaders for avoiding this topic. And I don’t blame them, or anyone else, for the eating disorder I developed in high school. It was truly spiritual warfare: not a struggle “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” (Eph. 6:12).

But with youth group—and an eating disorder—in my rearview mirror, I now see how much of a difference hearing my youth minister address this topic could have made in my life. His willingness to talk about eating disorders could have helped me realize that the voice in my head was wrong. For several years, including some of my youth group years, the only voice that I heard was the deceptive voice of Satan saying, “You’re fat, and you need to be skinny.”

I needed someone, like a leader in my church whom I admired, to speak God’s truth into my life.  

Why It’s Important

I realize that it’s not fun to talk about eating disorders in youth group. Eating disorders are a serious matter, and individuals with eating disorders often have major health problems as a result. Some even die. It’s probably easier to talk about happier subjects like being a light to nonbelievers, sharing the gospel, and following God’s calling. 

But students can’t be a light to nonbelievers if they don’t have a biblical view of their bodies. They can’t share the gospel with people if they’re not giving their bodies enough nutrients to thrive. They can’t follow God’s calling for their lives if they’re so focused on working out that they don’t even make time for God’s Word or prayer. 

These are the practical implications of avoiding the topic of eating disorders in your youth group. This is my encouragement to you, youth ministers: to approach the topic of eating disorders with bravery and solemnity, trusting that the Lord will supply your every need when you feel ill-equipped. 

In his first letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul instructed Timothy to take his role seriously: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:16).

Paul didn’t sugarcoat the truth: Timothy needed to take his position seriously and refuse to become lazy in the teaching of God’s Word. 

Teaching Spiritual Truths

Youth minister, you’ve been given an incredible opportunity to lead young people to Christ and to help them thrive in their relationships with him. Teaching them spiritual truths isn’t something to take lightly. I urge you to willingly approach topics like eating disorders and other mental health concerns, even if they might make your students squirm. 

Eating disorders are incredibly complex, so it’s okay if you’re not an expert on them. When you approach this topic, you should ultimately encourage students to bring their concerns and struggles to their parents or a trusted mental health professional. But as their youth minister, it’s your role to faithfully point students to the truth according to God’s Word.

There are a variety of ways that you can do this with your students. Help them identify the lies that they may be believing about themselves. Use specific Scripture verses to encourage them to walk in the light, rather than the darkness. Be willing to reveal hard realities to them, like the reality that they may never love their bodies because they live in a fallen world, but over time, they can learn to accept their bodies.

Pray for them when they’re at youth group, and let them know that you’re praying for them when they’re not at youth group. No matter what, remind them that recovery is possible through Christ, even if recovery doesn’t look exactly the way they think it should.

The Promise of the Holy Spirit

While it’s not your responsibility to prevent your students from developing eating disorders, your willingness to address this topic may indeed prevent them from walking down (or from walking further down) the destructive path of an eating disorder. You don’t need to be afraid of approaching this topic with them. Let the Holy Spirit give you the right words to say as you use this opportunity to point them toward the abundant life that Christ offers.

Interested in learning more about gospel-centered youth ministry? Check out our Rooted Youth Ministry Podcast, hosted by Danny Kwon.

Grace McCready is an author, blogger, and speaker who is passionate about encouraging young women through sharing personal stories and scriptural truths. She’s the author of Real Recovery: What Eating Disorder Recovery Actually Looks Like and blogger at Tizzie's Tidbits of Truth. She's also a full-time writer/editor for a Christian ministry. Although she doesn’t enjoy drinking black coffee, running marathons, or reading books, she does enjoy spending time with her family, chatting with her friends, and watching her favorite TV shows.

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