It took me 23 and a half years, 37 diets, countless detoxes, one eating disorder, and three unhealthy relationships to realise I needed to seek my worth in Jesus. It took me another three years to realise that even after finding my worth in Him, it didn't mean the struggle was over.
Hi, I'm Laura, and I'm a recovered binge eater.
Let me begin by saying I grew up in a Christian home, but have always personally felt I was lukewarm, meaning: my faith was always on the back burner and something else always took priority. Whether that was my diet, my friends, or a boyfriend, I was never active in living out my faith. I called myself a follower of Jesus, but nothing about my lifestyle reflected that.
My dieting journey began was when I was at the ripe young age of 10: when I was in the fourth grade. I wasn't actually allowed to diet, but I watched my older sisters (who were in high school at the time) dieting, and I thought I would try it, too, because I didn't like the way I looked. I just wouldn't tell anyone I was dieting. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing at the time, but my discomfort in my body was very difficult to live with and I continued to struggle with body image throughout high school. I was always pretty average, but it didn't take long for my high school-age-self to realise the pretty, skinny, tan, fit and athletic girls got all the attention from the boys. I was in an unhealthy relationship on and off through high school, which escalated the feeling that I had to be this unrealistic version of physical beauty, and this pattern continued for me into college.
I got thrown into the party scene fast. More guys, dating, and boyfriends; more drinking, parties, and focus on physical attraction. I joined a sorority, which elevated the social scene and pushed God further back, as usual. I spent so much time seeking worth and value in the parties and social scene that I was completely blindsided by the onset of my eating disorder: that I lovingly refer to as ED. Putting on some extra pounds from all the partying prompted me to start restricting my diet and upping my exercise. Frustrated with my lack of results, I pushed my body harder and harder. One mile swims, six mile runs, and a workout video were not abnormal daily routines. I finally decided to take drastic measures, and restricted my diet even more.
This was when the bingeing started. I was cutting out a lot of my favorite foods. I vividly remember laying awake one night thinking about all the foods I was going to miss: French fries, bread, chili, pasta, desserts, rice… the list goes on and on. After my drastic weight loss, I would “make up” for the foods I missed by bingeing on them and then working out and fasting the following day. And this was the beginning of a downward spiral that would last the next year and a half.
I gave up social events because I couldn’t or didn’t want to eat what everyone else was. I secretly judged people for what they were eating, especially when they thought they were being healthy (since I knew the “real” way to be healthy). I made late night grocery store runs to load up on all the foods I’d been craving, and bingeing until everything was gone. (This included anything from gallons of ice cream to bags of chips, cartons of cookie dough, loaves of bread, bags of donuts, packages of cookies, all in one sitting. The list goes on and on). I would run around seven miles a day to “make up” for my binges. I was out of control and didn’t think anything was wrong. I desperately wanted to lose weight, but couldn’t give up my love for food. Little did I know, the bingeing was a result of my extreme restricting. I thought I would finally get a handle on things… every day I would start over, just to binge two or three days later. Restart. The process was exhausting. Some nights I would be laying in bed eating until I thought I was going to have a heart attack. My heart would be racing and my body would be so bloated it legitimately scared me. I would fall asleep crying, feeling awful and sick, and would wake up with the most terrible guilt, usually just to start bingeing again first thing in the morning. It was an addiction.
This went on for about a year. I didn’t think God was in this eating disorder. I didn’t think His glory was going to come out of this. I had been lukewarm: a believer but not an avid follower. I hadn’t gone to church in years. But something occurred to me one night as I lamented over not wanting to go out with my friends and drink, because alcohol would put a wrench in my diet plan.
I could find friends at church who didn’t want to drink, who enjoyed being active and healthy and who wouldn’t interfere with my “healthy” lifestyle. So I began looking into churches in my area and got plugged in to a Bible study at a church I found and loved. The bingeing continued well into church life and no one knew, until I continued so out of control I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I was paying more than a few hundred dollars per personal training session twice a week to attempt more weight loss. I was bingeing before and after Bible study, telling myself it wasn’t a sin or a disorder. I was bingeing at home and in my car and after work and at work. I was downing anything and everything to get my fix before I had to cut out all the food I enjoyed again and “restart” the vicious cycle. Binge. Starve. Exercise. Repeat.
It’s obvious that I always placed too much of my worth and value in my appearance, but I never realised this until it was too late. Growing up in a society that places so much worth and value on these things, it’s no wonder I felt this way.
I see so many women around me who have similar tendencies. I think we all struggle whether we’ll admit it or not. When your food is effecting your lifestyle, it isn’t healthy. I finally came to terms with my eating disorder in my women’s Bible study group the following summer. There’s nothing quite like having a safe place where you can be open about these kinds of struggles and trials. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done: to be in the thick of an eating disorder and openly tell a room full of women, some of whom had already walked down the same road, what I was struggling with. I didn’t know what to do or where to start with getting healthy again, but I knew I needed help.
I slowly began telling close friends and family. I had to let go of my pride and I felt embarrassed and ashamed, but a weight was lifted simultaneously. I started going to counselling and working my way back out of the hole I had dug. Because I hadn’t been starving myself for days on end and I hadn’t been making myself throw up (I tried once but failed, thank you Lord), I didn’t believe I had an eating disorder. But disordered eating starts in your head.
I used to get angry when friends or people around me would discuss their diets or make passive-aggressive comments about what they should or shouldn’t be eating. “I shouldn’t have eaten all of that”, or, “I already ate a burger, so I might as well have dessert, too”. Why do we as women have the constant need to justify to everyone around us what we’re eating and why, whether we view it as “good” or “bad”? Why do we make ourselves feel guilty for enjoying the foods we love? Why do we force ourselves to uphold unrealistic expectations just to impress each other? There is something to be said for eating and living a lifestyle that feels good for you physically and emotionally. But we need to draw a line when it gets taken further than that, when too much thought and worry and stress is constantly being poured into this area of our lives.
It was a long, bumpy road to recovery. It took lots of counselling, lots of grace, and lots of surrendering over and over to Jesus. I went through multiple phases in the beginning, one being letting myself eat whatever I wanted–sometimes still bingeing, but mostly the bingeing stopped on its own once I stopped the hardcore restricting and dieting. Yet I was still left with a body I felt even more uncomfortable in: since the dieting stopped, weight gain began. Many relapses occurred. Once in a while I would try to diet again, going back to my old ways for a day or two because I was so unhappy with my appearance. The worst part of the day was always trying to find something to wear. Mornings would be spent in tears with a torn apart bedroom and closet before rushing out to work feeling desperately frustrated. I went through another phase of quitting exercise altogether. This was an even greater feat for me, since I had been over-exercising religiously for more than two years. It was a relief. I felt free: I could wake up and not feel guilty for skipping a workout. If I didn’t feel like running, I wouldn’t. And I was OK with that. It was a huge turning point in my recovery and I still praise Jesus for taking away the idol of exercise. I see, too, many girls around me over-exercising and dieting, running themselves ragged while this lifestyle steals their joy.
Recovery for me meant being real with everyone around me when I was struggling. It meant dying to my earthly desire to be skinny and to look the way I used to. It meant feeling uncomfortable eating in front of people for a long, long time for fear of judgment or criticism. It meant fighting the devil for my mental, physical and spiritual health. And you know what? I am still on that road. There are still hard days. Seeking my worth in Jesus doesn't mean I never struggle with my body image anymore, but it does mean that I'm not attempting to seek my worth in ED. He is no longer an idol I'm a slave to. Recovery doesn’t just end one day, it’s part of the journey God has me on that continues to try and test me. It’s making the conscious decision to chase Jesus instead of chasing numbers on the scale.
The most challenging part of recovery was changing my mindset, and it’s still evolving and changing today. My focus had to shift from myself and my selfish, shallow, earthly mindset to His Kingdom. What can I be doing for Him, for His glory? What good can come from this battle, and where does God want to use me now? Throwing everything into chasing Jesus is what has filled the void where my eating disorder once lived. When I stopped focusing on myself, it cleared up space for Him. After surrendering to Jesus, I met my husband at church, who also lives passionately for Jesus, and I can honestly say I'm healthier spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. My mindset is healthier, I have more peace, less anxiety, and I know my worth and my purpose.
I encourage you wherever you are to earnestly seek Jesus. Whether you’re struggling through an eating disorder, recovering from one, or you’re just feeling self-conscious about your body image, Jesus is in control. Keep a heavenly perspective and focus your energy on Him. If you’re going through a struggle, please seek help. I still see a Christian counsellor today, even though I’m not in the thick of my eating disorder, and this is something I highly recommend to everyone. Above all, don’t get caught up in the world’s lies. You’re worth so much more in Jesus than this world will ever be.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, please seek help & call your national hotline or talk to your doctor.
Australia: The Butterfly Foundation
Wow. Laura's story is powerful, raw and so real. I, for one, greatly appreciate her honesty, and hope that it touches you in a profound way. Laura is the founder of Seasoned With Salt Blog. Laura and her husband live in Maui, HI, and are passionate about glorifying God through different creative outlets.