When I was 25, I was afraid of food.
I obsessively counted and restricted every calorie and every fat gram of every bite of food I ate. I was anorexic, and I was exhausted by life.
Today, I eat bacon and pizza without a second thought, drench vegetables in copious amounts of olive oil, and go through butter like it’s chocolate. And I haven’t counted calories or fat grams in years.
The food God sets before me fills me with gratitude, because it gives me the energy I need in order to care for those I love, and because it offers me the chance to appreciate God’s blessings with others when we sit down to eat together.
What changed? The story is long, but the message is short: God changed me. He rescued me from the chains of an eating disorder. He healed me. And I believe He longs to heal every other person who suffers in the same way.
My fervent prayer is that the following verses will help those who seek healing from anorexia, and that all those who suffer will come to know their worth in the eyes of the God who loves them and wants them to be whole in Him.
1. “But I call upon God; and the Lord will save me. He will deliver my soul in safety from the battle that I wage.” Psalm 55: 16, 18
First off, don’t worry: You do not have to rescue yourself from this. As the psalmist says, call upon God, and he will save you.
For most people who suffer from it, anorexia is not really about food; it is about control. It is not about being thin, but about having control over something in your life. When you deny yourself food, you feel more in control of your life. But it is actually the other way around: You are not controlling your eating. Not-Eating-Enough is controlling you. When you feel the need to control every bite of food that goes into your mouth, you are not in control.
If you are obsessively controlling what you eat, ask the Lord to take control of your eating, and to help you overcome the temptation to be too controlling. He will deliver your soul in safety from the battle that you wage.
2. “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” 1 Corinthians 6:14
It might feel powerful to be able to say no to your body’s natural desire for food. But being able to say no to food does not make you powerful. Being thin is not power. Self-denial is not power. When it is your ultimate goal, you are powerless in its pursuit.
The only authentic power is God’s. Tell him that you are powerless in the face of your eating disorder, and ask him to raise you up from the depths of it by his power.
3. “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I will help you.” Isaiah 41:13
The desire to be in control usually comes from anxiety. For most anorexics, the fear of gaining weight is actually a fear of being out of control. Life can be chaotic and unpredictable, and few things are within our control. The intake of food is one thing you might feel completely in charge of.
But when you do not feed yourself, you feed your fear. Over and over again, Scripture tells us to “Be not afraid.”
In this verse above from Psalms, the Lord says he holds your hand. He is speaking to you as a Father to his child—he wants to reach down and take your hand, and lead you through this world.
Ask your heavenly Father to take your hand, to help you to trust him, and to take away your anxiety.
4. “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” James 5:16
One of the many blessings of the sacrament of Confession is that is helps us remember that it is okay not to be perfect. Anorexia often reflects a desire for impossible perfection. It is so important to know that no one is perfect, including you. You are loved because of who you are, with all your flaws and imperfections.
An eating disorder is an illness, not a sin, so someone who has one does not need to confess it. But it can be a tremendous help to go to Confession regularly, because the sacrament brings extraordinary graces. Those graces will help your mind, body, and soul to heal.
Also, Saint James reminds us in the verse above to pray for one another. Don’t be afraid to ask others to pray for you. It works!
5. “For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him…This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” John 6:55-56, 58
Receiving Jesus in the Eucharist is one of the best things a Catholic with an eating disorder can do to get better. The Eucharist not only nourishes us spiritually, but also physically, emotionally, and mentally. The healing graces of the Eucharist are real and powerful.
The Eucharist also reminds us of a very important truth: God created food to be a sign of his love for us. He made himself into our food so that he could nourish us and live within us forever. When we accept food as a blessing and a gift, meant to be shared with others, we remember the real purpose of food: It is a sign of the blessing and the gift, broken and shared, of the “bread which came down from heaven.”
(For more on this: My friend Emily Stimpson has developed a theology of food that explains in depth how food is a blessing and a sign of the Eucharist. Her work has been a tremendous help and inspiration to me and many others. She blogs about Catholic eating here: https://thecatholictable.com/2015/11/04/sometimes-you-just-need-to-eat-the-cheesecake-and-other-important-truths-about-food/)
6. “But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from evil.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3
You might feel weak when you have eaten what you did not wish to eat, and strong when you refuse to eat what your body craves. But it is actually the opposite: For a person with anorexia, it takes great strength to eat what you do not want to eat. Your body needs nutrients. It needs fuel. It needs good fat. When you eat what your body needs, you gain strength of will and strength of body. You have incredible will power; you must harness it for eating, rather than for Not-Eating-Enough.
None of us can be strong on our own. Will power is not strength unless it is used to serve God and others. The Lord alone gives us strength.
When you are weak, he is strong (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10). It is okay to admit we are weak! Ask God to strengthen your will to eat what your body needs. (And remember to relax: Eating is fun! Letting go and trying new foods is a wonderful adventure!)
7. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, who abides in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1-2
There is a reason we like rules. Rules are safe. Have you made rules for yourself about eating? What are they? Do they really keep you safe?
From childhood, we long to feel safe. We went to sleep with security blankets or teddy bears because they made us feel safe at night. It is no different for us when we grow up. We still long to feel safe. It feels safe to draw lines, to make rules about how eating will go (or not go), so that there will be no surprises, no regrets. But that is not safety; it is fear.
Only God keeps you safe. Dwell in his shelter. Abide in his shadow. It can help tremendously just to repeat this small and powerful prayer: “Jesus, I trust in you.”
8. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give it to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27
Do you long for peace? Does it feel like you have very little of it right now? Anorexics are in the midst of a battle: It is them against food. For a person who is constantly at odds with eating, peace is scarce. Our relationship with food should not be adversarial; it should be friendly. Peaceful. Food is a blessing, not an enemy.
In order to become allies with food, you can give yourself permission to start eating more, and focus on enjoying the blessing of sharing meals with others. You were made to eat food, and to enjoy its blessing with others.
The peace you long for is in Christ. Ask him to fill you with his peace, so that your heart will be neither troubled by hunger nor afraid of food.
9. “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17
When you are chained to self-restricted rules about eating, you are not free. Imagine a prisoner, locked away in a cell. Imagine that the jailer rations that person’s food and makes sure he is always hungry, never full, never has what his body needs. This is what happens when you are anorexic: Not-Eating-Enough is a jailer that you as its prisoner, and rations you less food than you need in order to live a full and happy life.
The Lord wants you to be free. He wants to set you free. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom from the chains of Not-Eating-Enough—and there is freedom to eat food “which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good.” (1Timothy 4:3-4)
Jesus tells us that the heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (cf. Luke 11:13). If you want to be free from the chains of an eating disorder, ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit to set you free.
10. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4
When we do not give ourselves the nutrients we need, our bodies begin to shut down. We might feel stressed, tired, irritable, weak, depressed, depleted, or overwhelmed. We cannot care well for others in this state. If we are not giving our bodies what they need in order to function, it is difficult to have the strength to love the people God puts in our lives.
In order to be able to care for others, you must first care for yourself. Feed yourself, not because you “deserve” it or have “earned” it, but because it will enable you to feed others. It will make you strong enough to love others.
It may help you to think of eating as a way to love others, and to ask God help you to eat better in order to love better.
11. “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:57
With anorexia, your victory is not won by conquering your appetite. Your victory is won each time you feed yourself the way God intends, giving your body the food it needs in order to live and to love.
Remember, though, that you do not have to attain this victory by yourself. Jesus knows you are tired of fighting. Rest in him.
Every time you feel the battle coming on—every time you are faced with the temptation to want to restrict your food—you can share in Christ’s victory by calling upon his name and letting him take over.
12. “Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” James 5:7-8
Even when you have surrendered the control and the power over an eating disorder to God, it takes time to heal. It takes time to learn how to eat well again. It takes time to change patterns and habits of thinking. It takes time to learn to be okay and even happy about gaining weight and getting healthy again.
Be patient with yourself. Establish your heart in the Lord, and when you struggle, go to him. A runner might stumble, but he gets up again and keeps running the race. It is normal to have temptations to go back to your old routines, so take heart, and don’t be discouraged!
Ask the Holy Spirit to give you patience while God holds you and heals you and restores you in his magnificent love.