Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else guard your heart, because everything else flows from it.”
1 Samuel 16:7 “…The Lord does not look at things people look at. People look at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Once again I love how the Lord gets my attention through life’s circumstances, then confirms through his word. How wonderful would it be if we looked at each other’s hearts and not their bodies or outward appearance? If we looked at the heart, we could see incomparable beauty, gifts, and brilliance. When looking at the heart we could applaud these internal values and strengths, and nurture these gifts, allowing them to grow.
Yet, we might also see sadness, hopelessness, despair and grief. If we saw the broken hearts we could then walk along side people in their suffering, offering up a listening ear, a hand to hold. We could learn what empathy looks like and feels like.
I have had the immense pleasure of sharing my journey through anorexia, recovery, relapse, recovery and redemption (Through Christ) on three different radio programs in the past month. These are opportunities I take seriously because they are scary!! I am not only revealing myself, but who Jesus is to me: Who he desires to be for all of us.
The question all three radio show hosts pose to me always takes me back to the beginning. “How did a praying young Christian fall prey to an eating disorder?” My mind begins to flip through my memories as if I am flipping through a dusty photo album that has remained untouched for years. And then I remember!
I remember how my tender young heart just born anew in Christ didn’t know that unlike “the world” he looked at my heart and not my outward appearance. I didn’t know at the time how to guard my heart from the harmful words and actions of a mother who didn’t appear to be anything but critical of me. This internalized voice followed me into every situation I entered. I became my own worst critic. My image of God was skewed. If my earthly family wasn’t “for” me how could the God of creation be “for me,” and protect my heart?
Sad, lonely and feeling, because of my home life, “less than” my friends and peers, I spent hours alone often reading the latest Seventeen magazine, Glamour, or even People magazine. Oh, and then there was always the annual Sports Illustrated Swim Suit addition with scantily clad women that couldn’t even swim in one of these suits. (That’s a topic for another day!)
I looked at these beautiful images with smiling faces often leaping or frolicking in a state of joy. Then I found myself studying them with the curiosity of a baby delighting in discovering her fingers and toes for the very first time. I was mesmerized as I pictured myself leaping out of my unhappy home and into the life exposed on the glossy pages.
What did these seemingly joyous, radiant faces have in common? Why were they so happy? Why I was so sad? I can’t recall if I didn’t know how to look inward or if it was simply too painful, but I looked outward. After all, this is really all I saw on the cover of these magazines were outward appearances.
The common denominator on every glossy page I turned over was their very thin bodies. “That is it!” I thought. Thin must somehow equate joy, happiness, and a carefree spirit of contentment? I had no idea how to change my heart at the time, or that it even was a matter of my heart, but I could change my body. Couldn’t I?
Even my mother had commented that I should watch my weight. Maybe losing some weight would make me happy and acceptable to my mother as a bonus! And so it began. I lost 5 pounds, but I wasn’t happy. It must be the next five pounds that will send me tripping through the daisies with joy. Five pounds later and there was no joy to be found, but my anxiety and depression began to rise like a high tide under the full moon.
Soon the continued loss of weight pushed people away and in an odd sense began to wall off my heart instead of guarding it. If they didn’t come around they couldn’t hurt me, but I was hurting all the time. Emotional, spiritual, and even physical pain began to engulf me. I was lonely with anorexia as my only friend. My few remaining friends, having no idea how to help me, slipped quietly into the shadows, as I became a shadow of who I was meant to be in God.
We knew so little about Eating Disorders in the 1980’s. It wasn’t talked about as a mental illness, but a choice. I just needed to shape up, chose to eat and stop it!! I couldn’t stop.
There were so many factors that set me up for an eating disorder. My gene pool of undiagnosed mental illness, a history of physical and emotional trauma, and desiring to separate my identity from my twin sister’s. I grew weary of answering the question that always confounded me, “Are you, you or your sister?” How is one supposed to answer this? I found that by being the thin twin, this question was now unnecessary.
I just love how Dr. Cynthia Bulik explains the myths surrounding eating disorders. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/news/media/2014/eating-disorders-myths-busted-myth-4-eating-disorders-are-a-choice.shtml
There is still such a misconception that anorexia and the cultural thin ideal are one and the same, but they are not. Did the glossy magazine covers entice me into that first diet? Yes, and in my case it pulled the trigger on an already loaded and cocked gun. Would I have developed anorexia in the first place without the media influence? I will never know. I do know that my relapse was more about guarding my heart, or rather walling it off, than reaching for the cultural thin ideal.
Eating Disorders are not about our bodies. They are about our hearts; hearts wounded along the way. In an attempt at preserving what is left of our hearts, we retreat behind the walls of our eating disorders.
Not knowing precisely why I developed anorexia, doesn’t stop me from raising awareness about eating disorders of all kinds and sharing my journey of truly allowing God to guard my heart instead of anorexia.
I am also reminded that most people, especially as they mature in Christ, look at one’s heart and not at the outward appearance. I believe that most people are inherently good and see the good in others beyond their body, but sadly body shaming does still persist in our social media/media infatuated world.
My heart’s desire is that my journey may help others who may also be that “loaded gun,” not feel compelled to go on their first diet that, because of their anomalous biology, environment, etc, sends them on an eating disorder path they never intended to wander.
Another hope and prayer is that my work as a Facilitator and Trainer for the National Eating Disorder (NEDA) supported program The Body Project (BP) will empower women to look inwards for their own value and see that we all have our own internal strengths and beauty that blooms from within. This is a scientific, evidence based program that asks women of all ages to question the pervasive “appearance ideal” that we are assaulted with daily.
Eating disorders do not discriminate. Approximately 25% of reported cases are males. It has been found that NEDA’s initial testing on male individuals in BP training showed the same effectiveness, however in co-ed groups the female participants effectiveness was less when males were present….more research is being done. How exciting to know that continued research is being done to raise awareness about eating disorders and prevention for both sexes, all races and the LGBT community.
Gazing inward and looking at the heart, for me, will always be a process of maturing in Christ. For others it may look very different. This is okay. We are all unique, valuable, and have the right to bloom were we are planted, into the flower we were meant to be.
I have included in today’s blog information about The Body Project and how to contact us for information so that we can bring this program to your schools, clubs, or other wellness communities.