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Overcoming an eating disorder

I was struck by your chapter about being successful, because I identify with so much of what you've described. I am a junior at an Ivy League school and a college athlete. Before I started studying the Bible, I was intent upon being flawless. I developed an eating disorder in college, which has since grown far worse.

When I became a Christian, I thought it would be over, but as I've started examining my heart more regularly and allowing myself to feel emotions, I’ve begun binge eating far more frequently. I think a lot of the problem is that I still want to have that perfect body and when I see how much weight I've gained since I've stopped starving myself, I feel really bad about myself. Plus I know that other people judge me for how I look. I am trying to get healthy again and pray for peace with my perception of my body. How did you get over it?

Robin's Response

Let's start with the eating disorder. I was a champion baton twirler before I found Christianity, and after I stopped twirling, I gained weight. My dad put a lot of pressure on me, telling me things like, "The fat is choking your brain." I think binging was my way of rebelling against him, and yet it was also an act of self-hatred (I'm not worth anything if I'm not perfect). I also remember feeling very anxious before I would binge.

As I began to resolve my feelings towards my dad, and began to deal more deeply with my own heart issues, the disorder began to subside. However, it took many years before I addressed my battle with perfectionism. I just turned it into other arenas, like shopping. Eventually, I got into a support group for overeaters, and that was a huge turning point for me. (Although the behavior was gone, I sensed some of the drivers were still there--and I wanted to understand what had taken me there.)

I relate to your drive to be flawless. I had an experience in my job this morning, where I made a mistake with a client that I was upset with myself about, and over-reacted in my heart. I think there's a fear there that if others see something that's less than perfect in me, then they won't see anything good in me at all, or that I will be rejected. I sometimes struggle to see the middle ground--the balanced place where imperfection is something I rejoice in, because God works through and in spite of my weakness.

What helps me the most is surrendering my mistakes to God. As I go to him and begin surrendering the mistakes, weaknesses and circumstances of my life (even how I'm feeling about my body), I start to see there's a lot more I need to surrender. Then I start to surrender what my clients think of me, my business, my future, my ability to write, and much more. As I surrender, God starts peeling layers of fear and anxiety out of my heart.

An eating disorder can also be a way to manage an unpredictable world. If your family kind of "lives" or thrives through your success, you keeping the illusion of perfection might have become tied into keeping your family happy, and playing your role in the family.

By the way, with your binging, if you are also purging (throwing up,) I would recommend getting into an eating disorders support group as soon as possible. I'm sure your college could help you find one in your community. They are completely confidential, and help to release a lot of shame that comes with an eating disorder. The binging/purging cycle is extremely addictive (and can damage your body), so if that's your struggle, I hope you'll use every resource you have available to you.

Another thing you might consider is starting or asking someone else you trust, to start a Soup and Security group of college girls. It is so powerful to be able to get with other women and talk about your insecurities.


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