Eating Disorders and the Holidays

For most people the holidays are times filled with so much joy and excitement, peace and fellowship. For someone who struggles with an eating disorder or anxiety about food and body image, however, November through New Year’s Eve is the most dreaded time of year. Or at least, that’s how it was for me.

I was diagnosed with an eating disorder during my freshman year of high school. I didn’t eat. I was extremely anorexic. And then after restricting myself for so many months, I began to binge, which then lead to purging. So at this point, I had bulimia. Thanksgiving was the hardest for me because there was food everywhere, food that I was scared of: so much fat, so much sugar, and so many carbs. For someone who struggles, those are three of the scariest words one could say: fat, sugar, and carbs. I was so scared of the food that I would have anxiety attacks alone in my room that nobody knew about. It was like there were two loud forces in my head yelling at each other. “Starve!” or “Binge!” Somehow, in a way, both always won. I would starve myself leading up to an event like Thanksgiving, and then I would binge until my whole body ached. I was able to justify this behavior because everyone indulges on Thanksgiving. And then I would resolve to start my diet the day after…. until Christmas treats started to flood our kitchen. The never-ending cycle continued as my depression and anxiety began worsen.

If you find yourself there now, you are not alone. I know you’re scared, I was too. I know it’s overwhelming, but the good news is that Jesus enters into the chaos and fears with you. 

I wish I could give you a quick, five-step plan that would help you not to be scared of the holidays because of food, but I can’t. I have learned so much from my years undergoing nutritional counseling, but even my counselor has told me that food and nutritional habits won’t fix the problem. It is a heart issue, not a food issue. 

So today, as someone who has been there, what I have to offer you is so much better than a five-step plan; I can offer you hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ – a gospel that conquers the heart issue and the driving force of idolatry toward food. I want to remind you of what Jesus has done for you, to encourage you to walk in that freedom and away from the enslavement to food and resolutions to fix yourself.

Jesus came from heaven to earth, fully God and fully man, to be the mediator on our behalf. He lived perfectly for you; he died, to cover you; and then he rose again for your freedom. At a time when I was struggling big with throwing up after each meal, my dad once encouraged me to imagine Jesus bloody on the cross. He wanted me to think about what his sacrifice really meant for me here and now. I didn’t want to imagine that but when I did, it changed my life. I imagined him as he hung there, saying through tears, “Rebecca, I ate perfectly, I never idolized food, I never starved myself, I lived the perfect life because I knew that you couldn’t. I was perfect FOR YOU and now I am here so that you don’t have to be. I am here to wrap my righteousness around you. Walk in that freedom.”  I had to visualize the blood, the extreme pain of my savior to make what He did for me more real. As it became more real for me over the weeks and months, I was so overwhelmed with gratitude for what he had done for me that I began to see the freedom that comes with His sacrifice. I saw and tasted His goodness for the first time, and began to see that food couldn’t comfort me in the same way. I don’t constantly doubt my worth or look to my size for value anymore because I know how deeply loved I must be that someone laid down their life for me. Living loved is living free. Knowing that someone was perfect for me, yet took my sin and shame is overwhelming and at the same time liberating. I am free from purging because He was pierced.

Even just writing that puts chills down my spine, and I wish you could hear my voice cracking as I say it out loud to myself, even now getting choked up by emotion. I want you to imagine him too. See the holes in his hands, see the blood drip down from where the crown of thorns has pierced his temples, smell the blood, and hear him say the same to you. He loves you so much, he saw the back of God so that you may only ever see his face. I tell you this to offer you so much hope. Galatians 5 is my favorite chapter of the entire bible; it tells us, “For freedom Christ has set you free, do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” That does not mean, make a resolution to be better or to diet starting tomorrow. It means Jesus set you free. He already did it, you just have to taste and see that he is good. 

Your identity is secured in the blood of the lamb, not your size. Your worth was proven when he went to Calvary for you, not when you look a certain way. Your value is in his sacrifice, and it never lessens because it is not dependent on you. Rest in that this holiday season.

When your fears are great and when you are tempted to binge or retreat from family time away from the food, remember the cross, remember it, and hear him tell you of your worth again.

Rebecca Hatton recently graduated from the University of Arkansas with a bachelors in Spanish and minors in Psychology and African American Studies. She is now working for Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) doing college ministry at the U of A. Rebecca has future plans to be a missionary abroad and a social worker with refugees and women rescued out of human trafficking.

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