This week I’ve chatted with a few people struggling with eating disorders and those who care for them. Tonight I’ll be speaking about my own experience at an evangelistic event. I’ve been asked to give advice on how to get and receive help. Here are a few thoughts, taken from an interview I gave to the lovely Sarah Harding at the Presbyterian Herald:( you can order your copy here).
Eating disorders are about our hearts as well as our bodies. Thus full recovery means more than just weight gain: it’s about facing and addressing what’s going on underneath. That can be terrifying. And it’s one of the reasons why we need others – to walk alongside us and help us learn to manage dangerous emotions instead of channelling them into food.
Early intervention is important. I always thought, ‘I’ll get better and then everything will be fine.’ A lot of people do. But the longer the eating disorder goes on, the more damage it does. Don’t wait to get help: your body is valuable. Like me, you might think you’re invincible and the rules don’t apply to you, but you’re not and they do. The best day to tackle your eating disorder is today and now. There will never be a good time and tomorrow will be even harder.
If you’re looking after someone who’s struggling, don’t try and deal with it alone. Get help and support from others. Don’t be simplistic about it – it’s about much more than feeling fat. Be prepared – the very nature of it is that it makes people angry and sad – so give yourself room to feel all those things. Hate the condition but not the person. Remember that recovery takes a while and sometimes involves steps backwards as well as steps forwards. People need long term support, especially when they start to look like they’re getting better. It’s at this stage that they have to deal with their negative emotions in a different way and so they may be feeling at their worst.
It’s tempting to think that since EDs come under ‘mental health’, only qualified experts can help. Absolutely, get all the medical and professional support you can. But heart care doesn’t just come from medics. If we as the Church don’t respond, then we’re making a statement about the gospel: that it is not big enough for eating disorders. Instead, sufferers need to know that Jesus is powerful and real and that He works in the mess.
Most importantly – Give Grace.
Eating disorders are you see, profoundly religious. In this model however, sin is caloric and I take the punishment on my own body. The context for recovery is therefore not just more works (whether incentives or threats) but grace: the grace that liberates me from yet another system of self-improvement. The grace of Jesus says I can’t fix myself..but I don’t have to either. It’s grace that allows me to be myself but gives me a hope beyond myself too. And it’s grace that enables me to grieve for the hurt I’ve caused and the damage I’ve done – but then to finally let it go.
Please pray that I’ll be able to point to Jesus and His astonishing grace.