Trichotomous or Dichotomous Man?

by Marie Notcheva
d11a7-mercury_diagramNow here’s a subject of interest for all you theo-geeks: are we a three-part being (body, soul, spirit); or a two-part (soul and spirit used interchangeably to describe the eternal, intangible part of man)?

I was only vaguely aware that there are conflicting views on this philosophical puzzle until a few years ago, when studying for biblical counseling certification. Last week, an acquaintance who is studying for the ACBC exam wrote me, asking about this question.

While I had been taught that the soul is made up of the mind, will and emotions (while the spirit is the core of one’s being, which is enlivened upon regeneration), I confess that I have never given it much thought – until I began studying the theology of biblical counseling.  In preparation for the coursework, I read John Macarthur and Wayne Mack’s “Counseling” and Jay Adams'”The Christian Counselor’s Handbook” back in 2010-11. Neither one was light reading. As it happens, both address the two-part (dichotomous) vs. three-part (trichotomous) understanding of man in early chapters.

Funky chart – but is it biblical??

In my own book, I had taken the trichotomous position; even maintaining that because one’s spirit is regenerated at conversion, if the soul and the spirit were one and the same, the Christian would never again show a proclivity to sin after the new birth. Going back and re-examining that stance in light of Scripture (especially Paul’s discussion of the ongoing conflict between the “old man” and the “new man” in Romans,) it doesn’t hold up.

Jay Adams traces the trichotomous view of man to Greek philosophy and maintains that it is not biblical . Furthermore, its reemergence in contemporary thought is partly due to Freud’s theory of the ego, the super-ego and the id. Uh-oh. He writes:

“Trichotomy is not supported by a superficial appeal to 1 Thessalonians 5:23, where Paul is not distinguishing the parts of man, but simply heaping word upon word to emphasize entirety. Jesus Christ did the same thing when He spoke of loving God with all of one’s “heart, soul, mind and strength” (Mark 12:30). The Scriptures use the term soul (pseuche) and spirit (pneuma) interchangeably. Cf. Luke 1:46, 47, where the two are used in parallelism.”

John Street goes into an even more detailed explanation:

” The typical bifurcation between the soul and the spirit made by some Christian psychologists cannot be biblically sustained. One Christian psychiatrist offered this explanation: “The soul is the psychological aspect of man, whereas the spirit is spiritual…The mind alone lies in the psychological aspect of man and not the spiritual.” Such an artificial distinctions grows from reading psychological meaning into biblical terms. Both “soul” and “spirit” speak of the same intangible aspect of the inner man, the part of man that only God sees. A concordance study of psyche shows that when Scripture uses the term “soul” in relation to man, it refers to that aspect of the innner man in connection with his body. When it uses the term “spirit”, it is that aspect of the inner man out of connection with his body. No distinction exists in Scripture between the psychologically oriented and the spiritually oriented man.”

Not to be outdone, Ken L. Sarles offers a comprehensive look at the usage of spirit/soul both in Hebrew and Greek (whenever a theologian starts a sentence with “If we go back to the original Greek…”, I’m inclined to say, “You win! I’ll take your word for it!”) From “How to Counsel Biblically”:

“The body represents everything material, while the soul represents everything immaterial. In this case, the terms soul and spirit are understood as viewing the immaterial aspect of human nature from different vantage points. That is, the numerical essence of soul and spirit is one. Evidence for dichotomy can be found in Scripture’s interchangeable usage of the terms soul (nephesh in the Old Testament and psyche in the New Testament) and spirit (ruah in the Old Testament and pneuma in the New Testament)….In evaluating dichotomy, the strongest defense is the argument from creation. Genesis 2:7 records that man became a livingsoul. The term is inclusive of everything that has a living, breathing being. It would be more accurate then, to say that man has a spirit, but is a soul. Furthermore, the interchangibility of the terms argues for dichotomy.”

There are very well-thought-out defenses of the trichotomous position, too, which seem to make a strong case from Scripture. However, as interesting as examining the question may be, I personally do not think that it matters too much whether our soul is distinct from our spirit or they are “two sides of the same coin”. In fact, I was rather surprised to realize that this is a point of heated dissension among theologians – somewhat on par with the pre-millenial/post-millenial debate! I want to have this spiritual reality straight in my mind for the sake of doctrinal accuracy, but if it were such a crucial matter I’m sure Paul or the Lord Jesus Himself would have spelled it out a bit more precisely.

Taking the Bible alone, the main point is this: if you have been re-born, you are a new creation in Christ. The old has gone; the new has come. You are no longer a slave to sin. Your inner man has changed – no matter how you wish to call it. Your spirit thirsts for God and He Who began a good work in you will carry it on to the day of completion. I don’t see any indication of a trichotomous man, but nor do I think it’s any big woop – certainly not one worth debating much.

If you go back and read the words in red, (not to mention the Epistles), you don’t see much hair-splitting philosophical debate – even with the Greek dudes in John 12:19-21 who were eager to talk to Jesus. What we DO see is a lot of common-sense, get-out-there-and-do-it commands, coupled with a call to constant devotion and commitment to inner holiness. This should always be our main concern, first and foremost.

But you’ve got to admit, the nit-picking theological questions can be great fun to study out.

What Makes Anorexia a ‘Harder Case’ Than Bulimia?

What Makes Anorexia a ‘Harder Case’ Than Bulimia?

(From Biblical Counseling for Women blog)

Marie Notcheva, Author of Redeemed from the Pit:  Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders, shares with us today about Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia. 

The two main eating disorders, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia are both relatively common in the Western world, with bulimia being 5-10 times more common than anorexia (especially among college-aged women). Broadly speaking, however, anorexic clients are much more difficult counseling cases than bulimics. Why is that? Why does ‘being transformed’ and renewed in her thinking seem to be that much more elusive for the starver than for the purger?

This was not a subject I got into in my own book, Redeemed from the Pit.”  I did not focus very much on the differences between the two disorders, but rather dealt primarily with the root sins contributing to both behaviors. Moreover, most Redeemed_Hi-Res_CoverSample-02a.jpg
anorexics end up becoming bulimic at some point. It is much more difficult to continue to starve than it is to give in to the urge to eat, and then purge as an “escape hatch.” However, there are women who maintain anorexia long-term without ever giving in to bulimia. I have known women to go well over a decade as anorexics, while their body tissues slowly disintegrate, still pursuing that elusive thinness. This scenario is much rarer than the more common one: A low-to-average-weight woman who binges and purges in secret, or an overweight lady who habitually overeats and cannot seem to moderate her eating habits.

The Depth of Deception

What is it about anorexia that makes it harder to counsel? Here is my theory (and it is just that – my somewhat-educated opinion): the level of self-delusion in anorexia is deeper.

A bulimic knows that what she is doing is wrong. She feels shame constantly, even when she has been purging for so long her conscience is desensitized. Even before she seeks counseling, inwardly she knows it is sinful to gorge and vomit up food. She knows the risks of laxative abuse, and is filled with disgust and self-loathing. She wants to stop the binge/purge cycle, but on the other hand is conflicted: The frenzied act of eating/purging retains some sort of reward to her that she is reluctant to give up, yet she is deathly afraid of gaining weight. As with her anorexic sister, the bulimic has made weight her idol. Nevertheless, she rarely has any delusions that bingeing and purging is anything less than sinfully self-destructive.

The anorexic Christian, on the other hand, is less likely to really see her self-starvation as wrong. Anorexia seems the more “noble, stoic” of the two eating disorders — after all, it takes enormous willpower to consistently refuse food. The anorexic is typically very proud of overcoming her baser human instinct – the need to eat for survival – and sees herself as of stronger, more self-controlled stock than other women. She has never eaten food only to “get rid of it,” so ‘what’s the problem?’ she may reason.

Distorted Body Image

Add to this the grossly distorted body image more common to anorexics, and you would have a hard time convincing them that they need to gain weight. I remember when I was anorexic in 11th grade, looking in the mirror (at 5’5″ and 90 lbs.) and seeing a normal-weight girl. Interestingly, in photographs of myself I saw how emaciated I was; but anorexics do not see themselves realistically in “real time.” For this reason, I highly recommend meeting with a nutritionist as well as a biblical counselor during the re-feeding process. A nutritionist provides an objective, science-based eating plan according to biological, nutritional needs. In my experience, this was helpful in giving me the confidence to eat nutritionally-balanced, if small, meals and to gain weight without freaking out.

Asceticism is Worshiped in Our Culture

A third reason anorexics may present tougher counseling cases than bulimics is the connection between asceticism and “religion.” I use ” ” around the term, religion to distinguish this way of thinking from true, biblical Christianity. The ascetics were an ancient group that believed in subjugating the body (believing all matter to be evil, like the Gnostics) in an attempt to reach a higher level of ‘spirituality.’ This way of thinking was also rampant in Medieval Catholicism (read about ‘holy anorexia’ and the contemplative practices of nuns of the time period) where flagellants and penitents would beat, starve, and sleep-deprive their bodies mercilessly as “penance.”

The notion of “penance” is antithetical to the Gospel, which teaches repentance. Repentance is godly sorrow over sin; trusting in Christ’s finished work on the Cross as atonement, and dependence on Him to turn away from the sin. Penance, on the other hand, is self-inflicted punishment or man’s attempt to “make it up to God” by performing some act. This is the height of pride (thinking that we can add something to our redemption, on top of Christ’s sacrifice). It is also a gross perversion of the true motivation for the spiritual disciplines (including fasting).

A Christian anorexic could easily justify her habit as “holy” by calling it a “fasted lifestyle.” The secular media certainly reinforces this mindset, by glorifying women who successfully lose weight through willpower, the secular term for self-control. Self-control is certainly a fruit of the Spirit, and fasting is something Christians are expected to do in seasons of intense prayer, but the anorexic mindset perverts them both. Although she is called, as a believer, to “put on the new self,” she is, in fact, giving reign to vanity and self-absorption. Paul writes:

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”  ~ Colossians 3:1-3

The anorexic’s mind is most definitely not set on “the things above,” nor is she walking in the Spirit. Her mind is set on the carnal desire for unnatural thinness and adulation. She ruminates about food day and night. Her lifestyle and habits “sow to the flesh” (Galatians 6:8). However, it is much more difficult for her to see her true spiritual condition through the eyes of faith than it is for a bulimic, whose purging habit is more obviously sinful (gluttony, waste, destruction of the temple – 1 Corinthians 6:19). Anorexia is just as grievous a sin against the body as bulimia is, but for these reasons, I believe it can be harder to convince an anorexic that this is indeed the case.

What are your thoughts on this? I am especially interested in feedback from women who have counseled clients struggling with anorexia. Do they see this as a life-dominating sin, or something that makes them “purer” (even if only in their own eyes)? Do they consider jeopardizing their health by self-starvation to be as wrong as overeating, or do they see it as “virtuous” (even if only secretly)?

Counseling a Woman Through an Eating Disorder Relapse

Counseling a Woman Through an Eating Disorder Relapse
by Marie Notcheva ©

One of the most maddening and disheartening things about overcoming a particular life-dominating pattern of behavior is the ease with which a believer can slip back into old patterns. When talking about ‘addictive’ behaviors such as eating disorders, we’d term this going-backwards a relapse. For a woman overcoming anorexia or bulimia, relapsing is much more common than for someone overcoming drug or alcohol abuse. Eating is necessary for survival; therefore, the temptation to use food in a self-destructive way or as an emotional crutch is much greater than with a substance from which she can totally abstain. Of course, this is not to say that quitting drugs is easy, or that one will never “fall off the wagon,” but for someone struggling to renew her mind from the grip of an eating disorder, relapse is a daily danger.

There are several excellent resources on this topic, apart from my own book Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of an Eating Disorder. Please see Dr. Mark Shaw’s book, Relapse: Biblical Prevention Strategies (Focus Publishing), and Brad Hambrick’s Gaining a Healthy Relationship with Food seminar.

The topic of relapse during the process of repentance and transformation is too big to adequately address in a single blog post, but we may outline some principles the counselor will find helpful to keep in mind as she dialogues with a discouraged woman. (Bear in mind that when a woman finds herself struggling with failure over and over with the same besetting sin, she often will question her salvation. Regardless of where she is in the counseling process, it will be helpful to re-cover groundwork regarding her salvation before moving on to changing her behavior).

What is a Relapse?

The definition provided by Brad Hambrick is a helpful one: Relapse is the recurrence of self-destructive behaviors related to our desired change. In eating-disordered counselees, this takes the form of either reverting back to the binge-purge cycle, or restricting calories/over-exercising again once a healthy food plan has been established. It is rarely deliberate. More commonly, fear will set in over weight gain or amount of food consumed in one sitting. “I’ve already blown it; I may as well go full-out now!” is the escape-latch thought. What starts as a one-time slip, if not examined and repented of, may turn into a slide right back into the eating disorder.

Why Do Believers Relapse?

At all times during the frightening journey out of an eating disorder, our role – whether as counselors or just as Christian friends – is to give hope. Logically, we might ask, If we are no longer slaves to sin, and especially if the counselee has made strides against her addiction, why would she fall back into it?” Here, we are asking the same question Paul asked rhetorically in Romans 7 – but a better question would be, “What is the counselee gaining from this behavior?” (Self-starvation, gluttony, drunkenness,etc.) The simple answer is comfort. She has resorted to her “drug of choice” so many times for so long to escape pain that, even as a redeemed child of God, she will still default back to this habit if she does not seek comfort, fulfillment, and joy elsewhere. An eating disorder is truly the empty cistern from which no satisfying water can be found.

Helping Her Out of the Pit

As Hambrick points out in his study guide, “More dangerous than relapse are dishonesty and hiding.” When a counselee is transparent enough to admit she has fallen, she is already on her way to overcoming the struggle. She first needs to be honest with herself, then with you (as the counselor), and with God so that she can see the relapse for what it is – a temporary setback that can be put in the past. She needs to know she doesn’t have to beat herself up over it. Shame leads to despair, which in turn will lead to her seeking solace in the behavior again. Eating disorders are vicious cycles. Hambrick outlines four pre-cursers of relapse: Complacency; Confusion; Compromise; and finally, Catastrophe.[1]

How do we give hope, at any stage of her relapse?

The first place to begin is with a discussion of God’s grace, freely available through Christ’s finished work on her behalf. She likely knows that her sin was covered at the cross–past, present, and future–but intellectually understanding this truth does not help a woman who is drowning in shame. She needs to hear it again, applied specifically to this sin, and to know that even if she slips again in an hour, “He is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse” her (1 John 1:9). One of the most crucial verses for an eating disordered counselee is, “…and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:4). Remind her of God’s faithfulness, and that His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). Ask her to journal about times in the past when God has proven Himself faithful in her life.

Once she understands (or is reminded of) the ongoing grace and unmerited forgiveness of Christ toward her individual struggle, it is a good time to be proactive and help her shore up her ‘action plan’. Remind her of past successes; the sure knowledge she had that the Holy Spirit was with her at all times. This is a good time to focus on the outworking of 1 Corinthians 10:13.

In subsequent counseling sessions, assuming she has not regressed further into relapse but is putting these truths into practice, you can again visit the thoughts and behaviors to “put off/put on” (Ephesians 4:22-24) specific to an eating disorder. (See chart below for specific examples):

“Put Off” “Put On”
Number on scale determines my value I am made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26) and my purpose is to glorify Him (Ps. 86:9; Isa. 60:21)
Counting calories Food is necessary to sustain life; receive with gratitude (1 Tim. 4:4)
Fear of gaining weight God created my body; I can trust Him as I eat the way He intended (Psalm 139:13)
Some foods are forbidden or “dirty” 

 

No particular food is unclean (Acts 10:15)
No one cares about me; I may as wellcomfort myself with a binge God cares about me, and I can turn to Him (1 Peter 5:7)

 

[1] http://www.bradhambrick.com/responding-to-relapse-in-an-unhealthy-relationship-with-food/

My Interview in “Challenge: The Good News Paper”

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Could God lovesomeone like me?

By Elisha Hammond

Starving for acceptance

photoNotchevabook

Anorexia and bulimia and a skewed body image haunted Marie for 17 years due to her family’s perception that thin is the only type of beautiful.

“I was an ugly duckling who was just not good enough to be accepted,” she recalls.

“As early as age seven, I remember praying to God that He would make me thinner, so that my mother would love me more.”

Throughout her school life, Marie became obsessed with obtaining the perfect body.

“In Year 10, I went on a lettuce and diet coke regimen for a while; then became bulimic,” she admits.

Soon, food was not just a barrier in the way of a better figure – it was the enemy – leading her to graduate high school at a mere 40kg.

Then, at university she curiously decided to join a Christian campus group.

From a young age Marie had a loose understanding of Jesus and His love but when she heard the life stories of other followers of Christ she decided to become a Christian.

“I accepted Christ as my Lord and Saviour, but it was more an intellectual acceptance of Him in my life than a total giving of my life to Him – a true surrender of my will.

“Deep down, I was frightened that I would never be able to completely submit this ugly secret that controlled my life to His authority.”

As a result, when she graduated university and moved to Bulgaria, Marie also adopted a drinking problem in an attempt to deal with the pain and emptiness caused by the eating disorder.

She married in 1995 but hid her eating disorder from her husband, even when they moved to the United States to start a family.

“I could not even stop purging during my first three pregnancies, although thankfully the babies were all healthy and normal weight,” she admits.

At this point Marie was painfully aware that her hunger was not physical.

In fact it was a “spiritual hunger” that left her searching for a permanent source of contentment.

“Bulimia is a spiritual disease masquerading as a physical one. I had this insight, but it didn’t stop me from binging when the uncontrollable urge kicked in,” she says.

The answer to her cry for help came when she noticed a small newspaper ad about the prayer ministry of a local church.

“I walked in timidly, almost in tears; not knowing what to expect. Three compassionate Christian women prayed earnestly that God would break this bondage in my life and that I would know His forgiveness and healing.”

As a result of this encounter, Marie surrendered her eating disorder to God and committed to trusting in Him, which she says is still a daily process of repentance (turning away from wrong thoughts and sins) and staying connected to God through prayer and reading the Bible.

“After my first visit, I stopped drinking completely. I went several days without binging or purging. Over the course of the next few months, I would regularly go about six days on average without an episode. Prior to this I had been purging two or three times, on average, per day.”

Then she began studying what the Bible had to say about idols and overcoming sin and Ephesians chapter 4 spoke to her about “putting off” old habits and “put on” new, God-honouring ones.

“God didn’t just instantly fix my addiction,” she adds, “It was by ongoing reading of the Bible, prayer and renewing my mind that the Holy Spirit gave me power over the temptation.”

Since then God has continually helped transform her lifestyle and she has been completely healed from bulimia for 13 years without a single relapse.

Today Marie is a certified biblical counselor with a passion to help other young women in their struggle with eating disorders and body image.

She has also written two books, one titled Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders, available for purchase on Amazon.com.?

For more about Marie visit her blog at marienotcheva.wordpress.com

Review of “Redeemed from the Pit” by Julie Ganschow

This review of my book, “Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders” was written by author and biblical counselor Julie Ganschow. It originally appeared on The Biblical Counseling Coalition website on January 29, 2014. 

Redeemed_Hi-Res_CoverSample-02a
Redeemed from the Pit is a solid read for the biblical counselor who is looking to expand their understanding on this important topic and for anyone seeking to overcome an eating disorder or is ministering to someone who is enslaved to the lifestyle. The personal story victory and practical application of Gospel truth makes this a great resource.

In the Pit of Despair

As a biblical counselor and as a person who was once diagnosed with bulimorexia, I took on the challenge of reading Marie Notcheva’s book, Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders book for both personal and professional reasons. I have had a love/hate relationship with food all my life. Like Marie, I once struggled with binging and purging and I alternated those behaviors with starvation.

From the introduction to the end of the book, Marie makes it clear to the reader that eating disorders are not a physical disease from which a person recovers but a spiritual disease from which a person must repent.

Marie’s personal story is weaved throughout this great book. She gives vivid details of how her early years provided the perfect mental and emotional set up for the development of her eating disorder. The culture of the late 1960’s and early 70’s that subjected women to consistent expectations of thinness and beauty fueled the fires of shame ignited by her family’s careless words about her weight and appearance. Her mother in particular (who appeared to struggle with her own food issues) was exceedingly fearful Marie would be overweight and suffer consequences to her health. She enrolled Marie in a toddler dance class to slim her down and restricted her access to sugar and starches.

At age 11, Marie began taking gymnastics. By 14, with gymnast Nadia Comaneci as her idol, she began a lifestyle of severe calorie restriction and over exercise. The highly competitive worlds of gymnastics and dance fueled her desire to become sylphlike. While she got the desired results through constant exercise and living on Slim-Fast and vegetables, the following year she determined to eat as much as she wanted, eliminating the food binge through vomiting.

In a very short amount of time, Marie’s binge/purge lifestyle was out of control. It was clear to everyone around her she needed help. Her health was in serious jeopardy. While referred to psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists, they were unable to breach the concrete protecting her heart.

A Way Out

In her sophomore year at college, she joined Campus Crusade and put her faith in Christ. She continued her secret lifestyle while active in Cru, Bible study, and discipleship. A job abroad followed college and her slavery to bulimia remained an active part of everyday life. She also began to drink heavily as a way to medicate the constant guilt and shame she lived with.

Marriage and children did not expose or alter her bulimia, although her husband did express concern about her drinking.

Marie writes at length about the self-disgust she experienced. It caused her to question her salvation and consider herself a hypocrite. She felt hopeless and at times she feared God had rejected her. However, she had such a desire to return to Him that she continuously tried to turn away from her sin. In desperation, she met with a small group of Christian women who prayed over her. It was then that she began to find freedom from alcohol and bulimia.

From this point forward in the book, Marie develops the inward battle of change at the heart level. She describes her battle with overcoming her eating disorder both on the physical and spiritual level and does not shrink away from describing the difficulties she faced or her failures in overcoming the desire to binge and purge. She notes, “Overcoming an eating disorder requires our constant, active commitment to inward change” (7).

Living Free

She urges the reader to “be one who believes” in the power of the Gospel as the means to transform life from victimhood to victorious in Christ, rightly emphasizing the critical need for repentance in overcoming an eating disorder.

“Forgiven, cleansed, and given a new start, He expects you to get up off your knees and get started—walking in repentance” (6).

Marie carefully breaks down the numerous issues of the heart that a person with eating disorder behaviors must repent of to overcome this sin and live victoriously. There is an entire chapter devoted to the believers position in Christ, which is very important for a woman with an eating disorder to understand since so much of her thinking is performance oriented. Marie brings forth the truth about the role emotions play in how a person thinks about food. This is vital since those with unhealthy eating habits believe many lies about food.
Throughout the book, there are application steps that make use of charts and Scripture memorization. There is also an entire chapter on practical issues that a person with disordered eating faces. Marie highlights the refining benefits of a biblical counseling relationship and involvement in a local church.
This book is a solid read for the biblical counselor who is looking to expand their understanding on this important topic and for anyone seeking to overcome an eating disorder or is ministering to someone who is enslaved to the lifestyle. The personal story victory and practical application of Gospel truth makes this a great resource.
julie

Hope and Healing for Eating Disorders

This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of “Ilira Revistë” magazine. Read the Albanian language version here.

© Marie Notcheva

Is there a point where a diet becomes deadly? Can a desire to look thin and “fit” become an unhealthy obsession? Is it possible for a woman’s behavior to be totally controlled by fear of gaining weight?

While it shouldn’t surprise us that the answer to these questions is “yes”, what is truly alarming is that eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia affect many Christian women around the world. If we are set free from the power of sin, as the Bible says, why do so many believers become enslaved by addictions? Women in the Church often feel ashamed to seek help, and hide their struggles with eating disorders. However, there is great hope to be found in the power of the Gospel. First, let’s look at what anorexia and bulimia are.

Anorexia nervosa is the clinical diagnosis given to individuals who starve themselves (and often exercise excessively) in attempt to maintain a lower than healthy weight, usually defined as 20% lower than average for one’s height. Extreme dieting and fear of weight gain (along with viewing one’s self as fat when actually underweight) can lead to cardiac damage, interrupted menstrual cycles, premature osteoporosis, kidney failure, hair loss, and other health problems.

Bulimia nervosa describes the binge-and-purge cycle of consuming large amounts of food, then expelling it by vomiting, laxatives, diuretics and/or excessive exercise. Many bulimics were anorexics first, or combine the two behaviors to control their weight. Once the difficulty of self-starvation becomes so great that a woman gives up and eats, purging becomes her “safety latch”: the only way to indulge the appetite (that has been denied for so long). She now feels completely out of control. Bulimics are usually aware of the health risks, which include electrolyte imbalances (which can lead to heart arrhythmia and kidney damage); esophageal ruptures and dental problems.

Another long-term consequence of both anorexia and bulimia is infertility. The average woman’s body fat percentage is between 14-20%. When it drops below 8-10%, sufficient estrogen is no longer produced and ovulation stops. Often, sterility and miscarriages are the result of eating disorders. A high price to pay for wanting to be thin!

What Causes Eating Disorders?

Although the media is often blamed for equating thinness with beauty, the truth is that women of every era have wanted to be considered attractive and desirable. Preoccupation with having the “perfect” physical attributes is what the Bible calls vanity, and we women are notorious for comparing ourselves to others!  While some blame modern advertisement for the message it sends women, psychologists label eating disorders “mental illnesses” and many people consider them diseases. This is wrong, however; there are no organic or genetic causes of either anorexia or bulimia. We cannot blame the media or biology. Eating disorders result from idolatrous desires and sin-deceived hearts (Jeremiah 17:9). They are learned behaviors, which by the grace of God can be unlearned.

Every action and decision we make is preceded by a thought. Then another thought, and another. “I am ugly. I need to lose weight”. Eventually these thoughts become a meditation. The meditation sooner or later leads to an action. “I ate too much…I will purge it.” Very often, a woman does not realize at this stage how serious it really is, and how trapped she will soon become. The action is repeated; others are added; and habits are formed. “That has many calories…I cannot eat it unless I run for an hour.” Weeks, months, and years of thinking food-obsessed thoughts and performing eating-disordered behaviors go by, and the bondage becomes deeply entrenched.

For a woman struggling with anorexia or bulimia, weight has become her idol. An “idol” is anything that we want badly enough that we are willing to sin in order to obtain it; a “must-have; will-do-anything-for; only-happy-when-I-have” craving. Both anorexia and bulimia are self-destructive means to attain an idolatrous goal: being thinner at all costs. When this mindset controls a daughter of God, she needs to remember her position in Christ. The believer whose “mind is set on things above” (Colossians 3:2) is focused on things of eternal value, and will not fall prey to the unbiblical thinking that fuels eating disorders. However, realizing that Jesus Christ died for this sin too should give the Christian great hope! It is never too late to turn around, and God gives us clear instructions on how to “renew our minds” with His Word in order to live lives pleasing to Him.

How Does the Gospel Apply to Eating Disorders?

When I was a child, I loved the story “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Anderson. I dreamed of turning into a swan as the maligned “duckling” did in the end, and being accepted into the ranks of the beautiful. By the end of high school, I had not been transformed into a swan. At 39 kilograms and on the verge of death, I was a teenager in desperate need of Christ. What needed transformation was my heart. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:2 that we are, indeed, to be totally transformed: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This means that we are not to copy the behaviors, mindsets or priorities of this world (including valuing thinness and physical appearance over our relationship with Christ).  We “renew our minds” (learn to think God’s thoughts and share His priorities) as we meditate on His Word.

God has given us all we need to align our thinking with His will, and live Holy Spirit-empowered lives (2 Peter 1:3). How does this look in the life of a woman who wishes to forsake anorexia or bulimia? First, she must realize the truth about her position in Christ: she is no longer a slave to sin. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul reminds believers of what they were – drunkards, idolaters, homosexuals, etc. But when they came to know Christ they were completely changed! That sinful behavior was left in the past. The same is true for an eating-disordered Christian. Although the craving and urge may seem overpowering at times, she can choose to overcome her obsession with food and weight forever.

Do you struggle with anorexia or bulimia, but long to be free? The Savior Who cleansed the lepers is willing to heal your heart, as well. Here are some keys to walking in victory, with His help:

  • Agree with God that the eating disordered behavior is wrong, and commit to turn away from it.
  • Accept God’s grace daily. No matter how many times we fail, God’s mercy never runs out. Women with eating disorders are typically perfectionists. This performance-driven mindset runs counter to the Gospel, which demands that we humble ourselves as children (Matthew 18:4). Trust that His forgiveness is greater than your sin.
  • Renew your mind. Pray and read the Bible daily to develop a godly way of thinking about food, appearance, and true beauty.
  • Take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Every time you are tempted to binge or purge; compare yourself to a model on a magazine cover; or take offense to a comment (to use a few examples), stop and re-align your thinking in light of Christ’s teaching.
  • “Put off” your old, eating-disordered behaviors and thoughts; and “put on” the God-honoring alternative (Ephesians 4:22-24).

When we come to know Christ, we reject, or “put off”, things that belong to the old, sinful nature (such as lying, stealing and anger.) In their place, we are to “put on” speaking truthfully; generosity; and kindness. An anorexic or bulimic Christian must consciously reject the lies she has internalized, and replace them with the Truth of the Gospel. For example:

“Put Off” “Put On”
Number on scale determines my value I am made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26) and my purpose is to glorify Him (Ps. 86:9; Isa. 60:21)
Counting calories Food is necessary to sustain life; receive with gratitude (1 Tim. 4:4)
Fear of gaining weight God created my body; I can trust Him as I eat the way He intended (Psalm 139:13)
Some foods are forbidden or “dirty” No particular food is unclean (Acts 10:15)
No one cares about me; I may as well

comfort myself with a binge

God cares about me, and I can turn to Him (1 Peter 5:7)
  • Lastly, regular worship and fellowship are especially important as the Lord draws you out of the pit of an eating disorder. Don’t be afraid to share your struggle with another believer who may counsel, encourage, and pray with you.

The God Who redeems us from sin is still faithful to transform His daughters’ lives. In Christ, there is true and lasting freedom from addictions. Anorexia and bulimia are bondages that may be left at the foot of the Cross forever!

Marie Notcheva is a Christian author and conference speaker from Massachusetts. A certified biblical counselor, she is a regular contributor to The Biblical Counseling Coalition website. In 2011, Calvary Press published her book, “Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders.” She is currently writing a second book, about evangelism, discipleship and counseling in the internet age. 

Hir ungjilli për gratë me çrregullime në të ngrënë, Pjesa II

Ky artikull ishte i parë në Koalicioni i Këshillimit Biblik Shqiptar.

Autore: © Marie Notcheva
Përkthyes: Juxhin Alia
Redaktore: Arta Cesula

Fjalë hyrëse nga ekipi BCC : Ju po lexoni pjesën e dytë të një blogu me 2 pjesë te miniserive Hir & E vertetë  mbi çrregullimet në të ngrënë nga Marie Notcheva. Në pjesën e parë të kësaj serie, ne trajtuam mendësinë e gabuar dhe “idhujtarinë” që qëndron pas çrregullimeve në të ngrënë. Në të dytën, do të trajtojmë disa dallime të përqëndruara në ungjill, mbi mënyrën e këshillimit të grave anoreksike dhe bulimike. Pjesën e parë mund ta lexoni këtu

E pranuar nga Hiri

Në librin e saj, Good News for Weary Women (lajm i mirë për gratë e shqetësuara) Elyse Fitzpatrick  heq një paralele interesante mes këshillave ekstra-biblike që gratë e krishtera marrin mbi të qënurit “të perëndishme” dhe Galatasve të cilët Pali i qorton pse i shtonin rregullat e tyre besimit në krishtin. Fitzpatrick me të drejtë vë në dukje se përpjekja për të jetuar sipas standarteve të tua në një tentativë për ta bërë veten “të pranueshëm “ për Perëndinë do të çojë drejt fajita, dështimit dhe dënimit të vetes. Disa shembuj të këtyre rregullave të pashkruara qe injektojnë fajin përfshijnë presionin për të qënë meuese shtëpiake, për të mësuar femijët në shkollën e së dielës, dhe të ushqejë familjen e saj me vakte organike, të gatuara në shtëpi rregullisht. Të gjitha këto janë zakone të mira por as nuk janë urdhëresa biblike dhe as na fitojnë “pikë” me Perëndinë. Ajo çfarë Fitzpatrick po thotë është se kur ne(gratë) I shtojmë barra të tepërta listës sonë te “vet-përmirësimit” ne po e vendosim veten sërish nën  “robërinë e ligjit” , duke u përpjekur që ta bëjmë veten të dukemi “mirë në sytë tanë” dhe duke refuzuar nevojën për hir.

Për një grua anoreksike ose bulimike, robëria prej rregullave dhe ritualeve të vet-vendosura, rritet në mënyrë eksponenciale. Ushqimet “e lejuara” bëhen gjithmonë e më pak, regjimet e ushtrimeve të detyrueshme, bëhen më të gjatë dhe më të vështirë, dhe marrja e kalorive bie në nivele drastike mos-ushqyerje.

Për një bulimike, të hash “më shumë seç duhet” (edhe një kafshatë më tepër) e bën atë të justifikohet për ta vjellë të tërën : “Unë tashmë e bëra lëmsh këtë punë… më mirë po i shkoj deri në fund”. Kjo mënyrë e të menduarit “të gjitha ose asgje” nuk lë vend për hirin, gruaja ndihet e ndotur, e dobët dhe fajtore kur “dështon”.Michelle Myers, ish-anoreksike, shkroi se u ndikua nga fjalët e një miku të vet ndërsa kishte ngecur në mëkat si kurrë me parë “ bën stërvitje apo jo, Perëndia të do njelloj”. Fakti se nuk je më pak “e vlefshme” kur nuk ushtrohesh njëherë apo kur ha karbohidrate, është një koncept i vështirë për tu rrokur nga një subjekt qe këshillohet për çrregullime në të ngrënë dhe eshte një shembull konkret se ku ka nevojë ta aplikoj ajo ungjillin në jetën e përditshme.

Dallime në këshillimin e klienteve anoreksike dhe bulimike

Ndërsa diskutoni “rregullat” e të resë që keshilloni, dhe çfarë ndjen ajo se mund të arrijë duke i mbajtur ato, ju mund të hasni një larmi përgjigjesh që varen nga sa thellë janë ngulitur sjelljet e çrregullimeve në të ngrënë tek ajo. Gjithashtu vini re se anoreksiket janë përgjithsisht raste më të veshtira këshillimi sesa bulimiket për një numër arsyesh:

  • ·        Shpesh(por jo gjithmonë) ato janë më të brishta fizikisht, puna e rëndë e ndryshimit biblik mund të kërkojë më tepër energji sesa ato kanë.
  • ·        Niveli i të gënjyerit të vetes është më i madh tek anoreksiket.
  • ·        Frika nga ushqimi dhe idhurjtaria e dobësimit është bërë shteruese për to.  Anoreksiket shpesh fillojnë keshillimin me pak shpresë për tu transformuar.

Nëse po këshilloni një femër që është diagnostikuar klinikisht me anoreksia nervosa (çka do të thotë se ajo është  të paktën 20% nën pëshën ideale trupore të saj), unë do të sugjeroja seriozisht për ju të kërkoni që ajo të kontrollohet të paktën çdo javë nga një mjek dhe të bëjë analiza laboratorike rregullisht. Mungesa e balancës së mineraleve elektrolitë janë fenomen i zakonshëm si mes bulimikeve ashtu edhe anoreksikeve, por rreziku i mos-funksionimit  te zemrës apo veshkave  është më i madh në anoreksi kronike.

Së dyti, jini të pregatitur për rezistencë nga subjekti anoreksik që keshillohet kur pëqrpiqeni ta bëni atë ta shohë sjelljen e saj si “mëkat”. Kjo është një nga dallimet më të mëdha që kam vënë re gjatë këshillimit të grave me çrregullime në të ngrënë : një bulimike tashmë e di se sjellja e saj eshtë e gabuar dhe vetë-shkaterruese, dhe i vjen zakonisht turp nga  “humbjet e kontrollit” që ka. Në kontrast me këtë një anoreksike ndihet e fuqishme kur arrin të privohet. Ajo beson se sjellja e saj e ngurtë është vetë misherimi i “të shëndetshmes”, e justifikon si “vetë-disiplinë”, dhe ndjen përbuzje për pëshen normale (që në sytë e saj është shëndet I tepërt). Kur ajo sheh veten në pasqyrë, pavarësisht se sa e dobët mund të jetë, ajo sheh një person obez përballë saj. Një bulimike mund të ketë një pikëpamje idhujtare mbi peshën(duke dashur të jetë e dobët aq shumë sa është e gatshme të mëkatojë per t’ia arritur) por zakonisht pesha e saj është afer normales dhe pamja e saj nuk është aq e shtrembëruar. Anoreksikja krenohet me “mbajtjen e ligjit” te vet, kjo është bërë identiteti i saj. Dëshira për të qënë e dobët me çdo kusht mbizotëron deri në atë pikë sa frika e saj nga ushqimi është bërë e pa-arsyeshme. Vetë natyra progresive e anoreksisë bën që subjekti I këshilluar të ketë frikë të gëlltisë ushqim.

Përveçse e ndihmoj atë  ti përballë këto frikëra në mënyrë biblike, unë kërkoj nga subjektet anoreksike të takojnë një dietolog(duke supozuar që sjanë të tillë) dhe këtë takim e inkurajoj edhe për rastin bulimik.  Takimi me një dietolog ndihmon anoreksiken të fitojë besim për të konsumuar ato çfarë trupi i saj ka nevojë në mënyrë të ushqyeshme, ndërsa përball bashkë me ju, këshilluesin biblik, mashtrimet që ajo ka përvetësuar.

Si rregull, unë nuk ju kërkoj as subjekteve anoreksike, as atyre bulimike të mbajnë ditar ushqimi, megjithëse dietologu mund ta kërkojë diçka të tillë. Të shkruajturit e çdo gjëje që ajo ha përqëndron një vëmendje të panevojshme tek ushqimi, sesa tek zbulimi i motiveve të zemrës së saj dhe tek ripërtëritja e mendjës së saj.

Duke i dhënë shpresë dhe duke i mësuar asaj ta çmojë Krishtin

Sido që të shfaqet sjellja e çrregullimeve në të ngrënë  të subjektit që këshilloni, ti japësh shpresë në sesionin e parë është vendimtare. Ajo mund të ketë përvetësuar shumë mite rreth çrregullimeve në të ngrënë nga “psikologjia e popit” siç janë “Ti kurrë nuk shërohesh, gjithmonë në përmirësim” përballeni këtë me 1 Korintasve 6:11 ku Pali këshilloi ish- grykës, pijanec, homoseksual, dhe të tjerë “të varur” nga mëkatet e tyre se ata janë “Larë… shenjtëruar… drejtësuar në emrin e Zotit Jezus” Ndihmojeni atë që të shohë se po e përdor ushqimin në një mënyrë që Zoti nuk e caktoi, dhe se po dëmton trupin që Ai i dha asaj për ti shërbyer dhe për të nderuar vetë Zotin. Një prej ngjashmërive mes anoreksisë dhe bulimisë është se në të dyja çrregullimet, kjo sjellje po shërben si “shpëtimtar i rremë” – Ato e bejnë të vuajturin të ndihet mirë (përkohësisht) prandaj është e vështirë të rreshtësh. Kur rehatia dhe Dobësimi janë prioritetet kryesore të saj, mendja e saj nuk “është vendosur tek gjërat qiellore” (siç vërejtëm në pjesën 1), dhe zemra e saj priret drej vetes (Mateu 6:21). Në mënyrë që të transformohet, ajo duhet të mësojë të ripërtërijë mendjen me Fjalën e Perëndisë dhe ta kthej zemrën e saj drejt Krishtit (Romakëve 12:1-3 , 2 Korintasve 3:18) Si në gjithë mëkatet jetë-zotërues, besimtarja duhet të mësojë ta shohë Jezus krishtin si më të bukur dhe më të dëshirueshëm se “idhulli” i saj. Detyra juaj është ta ndihmoni të dallojë cili është vullneti i tij I menjëhershëm për jetën e saj( një mendje e transformuar, shëndet, kthimi i ushqimit në rolin e vet jetik)  dhe ti besojë Perëndisë dhe atyre që ai i ka vënë pranë për ta ndihmuar(Proverbat 3:6)

Duke përballur tundimin

Të kapërcesh një çrregullim në të ngrënë nuk është e thjeshtë, edhe për një të krishterë që sinqerisht dëshiron të ndjekë Krishtin. Femrat shpesh mund të kenë drojë për t’i zbuluar “sekretin” e tyre dikujt kur vijnë për herë të parë tek ju, me turp për sjelljen e tyre, dhe me dëshiren e dëshpëruar për të ndalur por të tmerruara se Fjala e Perëndisë nuk do të “mjaftoj” për to, dhe ato nuk do mund të bëjnë kthesë nga çrregullimi i tyre në të ngrënë. Pregatituni të ri-vizitoni ungjillin ( Personin  dhe veprën e Jezus Krishtit për to) shumë herë dhe të tregoni, shpirtërisht, hir për çdo dështim (Luka 17:4 është një varg i fuqishëm për mëkatin që jep varësi, po ashtu Romakeve 7). Mësojini asaj ti kthejë sytë nga Krishti për ndihmë dhe ngushëllim në kohë vështirësie(Hebrenjve 4:14-16, 1 Pjetrit 5:6-7, Mateu 11:28-30) çdo herë që ajo është e aftë t’i drejtohet Perëndisë në momente dobësie dhe t’i rezistojë tundimit për t’iu përmbajtur ushqimit apo për të vjellë, ajo do të fitojë vet-besim dhe do të fillojë ta shohë veten duke kryer një fitore shpirtërore.

Shërim në trup, mendje dhe shpirt

Sapo subjekti që këshillohet ka filluar të hajë rregullisht, vakte të shëndetshme dhe te zhvillojë modele të reja të menduari, nevoja për t’u përmbajtur apo për të vjellë priret të largohet brenda pak muajsh. Anoreksikja tashmë e ka përballur frikën e saj më të madhe, të shtuarit peshë, dhe sheh një përmirësim në shëndetin e saj. Shtimi në peshë do të rrafshohet shumë shpejt, por këmbëngulni që ajo te vazhdojë të ndjekë planin e vakteve “të mirëmbajtjes” si pjesë e një detyre shtëpie. Shih kapitullin 13(konsiderata praktike) te librit tim, Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the bondage of Eating Disorders( Shpengim nga bataku, pendesë dhe ripërtëritje biblike nga robëria e çrregullimeve në të ngrënë)

Një bulimike sheh se dëshirat e papërmbajtura të saj largohen teksa mendja e saj ripërtërihet, pjesërisht edhe sepse ajo po mban ushqimin që trupi isaj kishte aq shume nevojë. Energjia dhe përqëndrimi i saj përmirësohen drastikisht, pothuaj ne te njëjtën kohë që rresht së vjelli, pasi niveli i sheqerit ne gjakun e saj nuk leviz pa fre cdo orë. Emocionalisht, anoreksiket dhe bulimiket priren të jenë në të njejtin nivel sapo të ngrënët e tyre normalizohet, dhe nuk fiksohen aq shpesh tek ushqimi.

Eshte jashtëzakonisht inkurajuese, si për gruan që kalon çrregullimin në të ngrënë, ashtu edhe për këshilluesin, të shohë transformimin të ndodhë ndersa ajo mëson t’I mbajë syte në Krishtin dhe ta lërë robërinë e saj perfundimisht tek këmbët e kryqit.

Bashkoju bisedës

Kur i referoheni vështirësive me çrregullimet në të ngrënë, qoftë në jetën tuaj apo të subjektit që këshilloni, si mund ta aplikoni hirin e ungjillit të Krishtit?

Gospel Grace for the Eating-Disordered Woman, Part 2

Gospel Grace for the Eating-Disordered Woman, Part 2

This article originally appeared on The Biblical Counseling Coalition’s website.

© Marie Notcheva

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part 2 of a two-part BCC Grace & Truth blog miniseries on eating disorders by Marie Notcheva. In the first part of this series, we considered the faulty thinking and “idolatry” behind eating disorders. In the second, we will consider some gospel-centered differences in how to counsel anorexic and bulimic women. You can read Part 1 here.

Accepted by Grace

In her book, Good News for Weary Women, Elyse Fitzpatrick draws an interesting parallel between extra-biblical advice Christian women receive on how to be “godly” and the Galatians whom Paul was chiding for adding rules onto faith in Christ. Fitzpatrick correctly points out that trying to live up to our own standards in an attempt to make ourselves “acceptable” to God will lead to guilt, failure, and self-condemnation.

Some of the examples of guilt-inducing, unwritten “rules” for Christian women include the pressure to homeschool, teach Sunday school, and feed the family organic, home-cooked meals regularly. All of these are good practices but are neither biblical commands nor do they gain us “points” with the Lord. The point Fitzpatrick is making is that when we (women) add additional burdens to our “self-improvement” lists, we are putting ourselves back under the “bondage of the Law,” attempting to make ourselves look “okay in our own eyes” and denying our need for grace.

For an anorexic or bulimic woman, the bondage to her self-imposed rules and rituals is exponentially worse. “Allowed” foods become progressively fewer, mandatory exercise regimes become longer and more arduous, and calorie intake drops to starvation levels.

For a bulimic, eating “too much” (even by one bite) causes her to justify an all-out binge: “I’ve already blown it now…I may as well go all in.” This all-or-nothing thinking leaves no room for grace; the woman feels dirty, weak and guilty when she “fails.” Former anorexic, Michelle Myers, wrote of being struck by a friend’s words when she was most stuck in her sin:  “God loves you just as much whether or not you work out.” Being no less “worthy” by skipping a workout or eating carbs is a difficult concept for an eating disordered counselee to grasp and is a very concrete example of where she needs to apply the gospel in her daily life.

Differences in Counseling Anorexic and Bulimic Clients

When discussing the young woman’s “rules” and what she feels may be gained by keeping them, you may encounter many different responses according to how deeply entrenched her eating-disordered behavior is. Also, be aware that anorexics generally are more difficult counseling cases than bulimics for a number of reasons:

  • They are often (but not always) more medically fragile; doing the hard work of biblical change may require more energy than they have.
  • The level of self-deception is greater in anorexia.
  • Fear of food and the idolatry of thinness has become all-consuming. Anorexics often begin counseling with little hope of being transformed.

If you are counseling a young woman who has been clinically diagnosed with anorexia nervosa (meaning she is at least 20% below her ideal body weight), I would strongly suggest you require she be monitored at least weekly by a physician and have labs drawn regularly. Electrolyte imbalances are common among both anorexics and bulimics, but the risk of cardiac or renal failure is greater in severe anorexia.

Secondly, be prepared for pushback from the anorexic counselee when trying to get her to see her behavior as “sin.” This is one of the biggest differences I have noticed in counseling young women with eating disorders: a bulimic counselee already knows her behavior is wrong and self-destructive, and she is typically ashamed of her “loss of control.” An anorexic, by contrast, often feels empowered by restricting. She believes her rigid behavior is the epitome of “healthy,” justifies it as “self-discipline,” and feels revulsion for being a normal weight (which in her eyes is “fat”). When she looks in the mirror, no matter how emaciated she may be, she sees an obese person looking back at her. A bulimic may have an idolatrous view of weight (wanting to be thin so badly she is willing to sin in order to obtain it), but typically her weight is close to normal and self-image is not quite so skewed.

The anorexic takes great pride in her “law-keeping”—it has become her identity. The desire to be thin at all costs takes over—to the point where her fear of food has become irrational. The progressive nature of anorexia nervosa leaves the counselee literally afraid to swallow food.

Besides helping her counter these fears biblically, I require anorexic counselees to see a nutritionist (assuming they are outpatient) and strongly encourage it for bulimics. Meeting with a dietician helps the anorexic gain confidence in consuming what her body needs nutritionally, while countering the lies she has internalized with you, the biblical counselor.

As a rule, I do not ask either anorexic or bulimic counselees to keep food diaries—although a dietician may require it. Writing down everything she eats focuses undue attention on the food itself, rather than on uncovering her heart motivations and renewing her mind.

Giving Hope and Teaching Her to Treasure Christ

However your counselee’s eating disordered behavior manifests, giving hope in the first session is crucial. She likely will have internalized a lot of myths about eating disorders from “pop psychology,” such as “You’re never fully recovered; always in recovery.” Contrast this with 1 Corinthians 6:11 where Paul admonished former gluttons, drunkards, homosexuals, and others “addicted” to their sin that they have been “washed…sanctified…and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Help her to see that she is using food in a way that God did not intend it and that she is harming the body He gave her to serve and honor Him.

A similarity between anorexia and bulimia is that in both disorders the behavior is serving as a “false savior”—they make the sufferer feel better (temporarily) so stopping is hard. When comfort and thinness are her top priorities, her mind is not “set on things above” (as we saw in Part 1), and her heart is drawn to herself (Matthew 6:21). To be transformed, she must learn to renew her mind with God’s Word and turn her heart to Christ (Romans 12:1-3; 2 Corinthians 3:18). As in all life-dominating sin, the believer must learn to see Jesus Christ as more beautiful and desirable than her “idol.” Your task is to help her discern what His immediate will is for her life (a transformed mind, health, restoring food to its proper, life-sustaining place) and to trust God and those He has given her to help her (Proverbs 3:6).

Facing Temptation

Overcoming an eating disorder is not easy, even for a Christian who sincerely desires to follow Christ. Women may often be fearful of revealing their “secret” to anyone when they first come to you, ashamed of their behavior, and desperately wanting to stop but terrified that God’s Word will not be “enough,” and they will not be able to turn from their eating disorder.

Be prepared to re-visit the gospel (the Person and work of Jesus Christ on their behalf) many times and to demonstrate, scripturally, grace for each failure (Luke 17:4 is a powerful verse for addictive sin, as is Romans 7). Teach her to turn to Christ for help and comfort in times of struggle (Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 Peter 5:6-7; Matthew 11:28-30). Each time she is able to turn to God in her moment of weakness and resist the temptation to restrict or purge, she will gain confidence and come to see herself as waging a spiritual victory.

Healing in Body, Mind, and Spirit

Once the counselee has begun to eat regular, healthy meals and develop new patterns of thinking, the urge to restrict or purge tends to subside within a couple of months. The anorexic has now faced her greatest fear—gaining weight—and sees an improvement in health. The weight gain will usually plateau relatively soon, but insist that she stick to her “maintenance” meal plan as part of her homework assignment. See chapter 13 (“Practical Considerations”) of my book, Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the bondage of Eating Disorders.

A bulimic finds her intense cravings subsiding as her mind is restored, partly because she is retaining the nutrition her body desperately sought. Her energy and concentration dramatically improves, almost as soon as she stops purging, as her blood sugar is no longer spiking wildly every few hours. Emotionally, anorexics and bulimics tend to be on a much more even keel once their eating normalizes, and do not find themselves fixating nearly so often on food.

It is tremendously encouraging, both for the woman overcoming an eating disorder and for the counselor, to see the transformation take place as she learns to fix her eyes on Christ and permanently leave her bondage at the foot of the cross.

Join the Conversation

When addressing struggles with eating disorders, either in your own life or in your counselees, how can you apply the gospel of Christ’s grace?