Seeking God’s Purpose For Our Bodies: The Bible and Eating Disorders
by Cyara Buchuck-Wilsenach
An estimated 1.25 million people in the UK are currently living with an eating disorder. That is not a homogeneous group. As an illness that begins, breeds, and lives in the mind, this is less like 1.25 million people all undergoing an amputation and more like 1.25 million drowning and expecting them all to have jumped off the same ship and be able to swim and make their way to safety in the same way. The experiences that lead people to this illness are as varied as the bodies that experience it. As a church we should always be looking outwards as well as in, and I’m well aware that those suffering with eating disorders are both in and outside the church. As Christ’s representatives on earth it is our duty as Christians to equip ourselves with knowledge about this issue in order to act with compassion to both our Christian and non-Christian friends who are suffering.
For me, as for many people, living with an eating disorder meant a constant search for perfectionism, the ‘perfect’ body to represent the ‘perfect’ human who never failed at anything. I lost all self-confidence and self-respect, I no longer viewed my body as something to nourish and help me go about the world, but as something to simultaneously punish and exalt as I searched for perfection in my physical self and, naturally, failed to find it. As someone who has always been a Christian, this flies in the face of everything I had previously known to be true about God’s plans to see us thrive mentally, physically, and spiritually.
It is important to understand what the Bible says about our bodies, and how we are to view them. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says ‘Do you know know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.’ This passage is written in the context of sexual immorality, but its core message is applicable to a much broader view of our bodies. It reveals that we should neither idolise, nor demonise our bodies. We must seek a middle ground. We are not to see our bodies as temples unto themselves, only existing to look beautiful and act perfectly, vanity showpieces we display with pride. No, our bodies are tools for God’s work. As members of the church we are God’s hands and feet, and our bodies are our means of carrying out his work, sharing the gospel not just with our mouths but through our actions, helping others and each other. Our bodies are not our own, since we were bought for a price on the cross, body and soul, our bodies are a part of us to be used for God’s work. Equally, we are not to despise our bodies. We are not the Ancient Greeks, while we are alive on this earth we cannot split our souls from our bodies, taking care of only one half and surrendering only one half to God’s will. Psalm 139:13-14 tells us God ‘you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.’ Our bodies are a gift from God, and not to be discarded lightly, or misused. What this means then, is that part of God’s plan for wanting the best for us, means treating our bodies as worthy of respect, as we would someone else’s, but not expecting it to be something that is to be perfected and praised, by ourselves or others, above anything else.
The mindset of an eating disorder sufferer goes against all of this. It doesn’t mean someone suddenly lacks faith, or has willingly turned away from God, but in the same way that a person can’t prevent developing cancerous tissue, for those with eating disorders negative thoughts surrounding the body and self-breed and multiply, indifferent to previous wills of the mind and state of faith. This is something I’ve seen many Christians struggle with understanding, hoping that a simple prayer for a friend suffering will fix them. Of course there is power in prayer, and God does intercede with miracles, however just as one wouldn’t only pray for a friend with cancer and refuse them the necessary medical treatment, so too is only praying for a friend with an eating disorder not the most compassionate and loving action. I saw my church family reflect Jesus’ love most for me when they followed up their prayers (seen and unseen) with supportive action, going with me to appointments, checking I was OK in social eating settings and so on. Though there is no ‘blame’ to be placed on a person’s thoughts that do not align with biblical teaching on our bodies whilst suffering from this illness – after all how often do our thoughts not align with a number of biblical teachings out of sheer ignorance or defiance – it is helpful to see the true purpose of our bodies. During the recovery process, it takes a great deal of work to make a conscious shift in how one views one’s body. I have found revelations through scripture about God’s design for our physical bodies, and their relative importance, to be incredibly helpful in moving away from being hyper-focused on my body’s flaws and search for perfection. As a Christian I have been bought at a price, body and soul, for God’s glory, through Jesus’ death. Honouring that transaction by taking care of my body given to me by God, and seeing it as something that I can use to bring glory to Him is such a freeing endeavour, and this change of mindset from seeking to glorify my body as a symbol of my own perfection and worthiness of love (something that is neither required or possible of me), lies at the core of moving beyond my own struggles with an eating disorder.
 more statistics on eating disorders in the UK may be found on the Beat website [external link]
 see 1 Corinthians 12:12-27
Cyara is a second-year History and English student at Merton College.
Opinions expressed are those of the author, not of Just Love Oxford. Just Love Oxford is not responsible for the content of external links. Bible references are to the NIV.[image description (cover): Cyara is on a street pavement, leaning on a wall with a graveyard behind, and trees and a building in the background.] [image description (inline): Cyara is standing in front of a bookshelf, smiling, with her hands on her hat.]