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This post was written by Jennifer Smith Lane, the author of Transformed: Eating and Body Image Renewal God’s Way. I’m sharing Jennifer’s story this week as we approach Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW). Her story is raw and real, but it’s also full of hope. If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or you know someone who’s struggling with an eating disorder, this account will both convict and uplift.
You messed up again. I knew you couldn’t do it right. You’re just not good enough. This is all your fault. You’re such a failure. I can’t believe you’re even struggling with this. You’re worthless. No one will ever love you…
These are the lies I constantly heard—before I ever developed an eating disorder. These lies affected how I viewed basically everything in my life. Their volume surged at moments of doubt and darkness. I entertained the lies and started to believe them rather than discarding them. I still engaged with the truth but became lost in the sea of lies. Soon the lies consumed my thoughts, and, sadly, they seemed realer to me than the truth.
Believing the lies caused me to stray off course and like myself less than I already did. They played repeatedly in my mind, and I was desperate to decrease their frequency and intensity. I became convinced that my situation would be fixed if I could just recreate how I used to be when I felt loved and accepted.
From Bad to Worse
Shortly thereafter, I started receiving positive comments from others about how I looked. They said things like, “You look great! Did you lose weight?” and “Are you working out?” I was surprised by what they said because losing weight wasn’t really on my radar. I was too consumed with the recurring lies in my mind to think about losing weight. But their comments made me feel good, and I started to worry about gaining weight and somehow disappointing them if I did. I thought that losing weight would be the avenue to fix my problems and make me feel acceptable again.
Not gaining weight was my new goal, which translated to me becoming preoccupied with how much I was eating. I started eating less and less because I feared that I would eat too much and gain weight. I also decided to “get healthy” by creating a strict daily exercise regime.
As I set out to prove that the lies in my mind were wrong, my eating disorder was born. My eating disorder tempted me with empty promises of beauty, acceptance, worthiness, and success. But it didn’t fulfill what it had promised. Instead, it betrayed me and left me feeling broken. And it took God’s place as the master on the throne of my heart.
A Hard Recovery
As time passed, I did lose weight. And people noticed. I got a lot of positive comments at first, which felt good.
But my weight continued to decrease steadily, and I became emaciated. The positive comments stopped. My eating disorder was no longer helping me reach my goal of pleasing people and feeling better about myself. A few people expressed their concerns, but I was too entrenched to do anything to get better.
The lies were blaring non-stop—with more ammo than ever before. I knew I needed help, but I was too proud to admit I had a problem and too in denial of how big my problem was. Instead, I tried to pull away from people, avoid eating socially, and hide behind a façade of happiness. I convinced myself that no one knew, which was another lie I believed.
Eventually, I felt motivated to get better; so I asked experts to give me a recovery plan. I wanted three simple steps to get back on track, but there was no such formula. I soon discovered that I had allowed my eating disorder to grow so large that it wasn’t going to give up mastery over me as quickly or as easily as I had initially expected.
For the next seven years, I tried to recover from my eating disorder. Battles were won, and battles were lost. But I kept fighting. Then one day, my treatment team told me how great I was doing and that I was probably doing as well as I ever would be. They told me, “Eating disorders don’t ever go away; they just have to be managed.” I was shocked—and devastated.
What? Seriously? But it’s not gone! I’ve been working so hard for seven years—and for what?
After that, I quit trying to get better. I quit trying to please everyone. I quit fighting back. As a result, I relapsed into a much deeper, darker mindset. I rapidly lost weight again. My treatment team had never seen me unmotivated and didn’t know what to do with me. Hopelessness set in, and it became harder to see my purpose in life. I didn’t feel like myself.
A Transformed Mind
When I reached out to a trusted friend and shared how I felt with her, she started praying for me. God began to move in a mighty way. Our prayer time together started a chain of events, where God enlightened me to all the lies I was believing and how they were keeping me trapped. It was like He turned on the light in a dark room and exposed all that was hiding inside.
As the truth began to permeate the lies, they became quieter and I heard them less frequently. Eventually, they stopped altogether. My urges to engage in the unhealthy behaviors of my eating disorder dissipated. God reclaimed the throne of my heart, and His Truth set me free.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2 ESV)
Jennifer Smith Lane is the president and co-founder of the Michigan Eating Disorders Alliance whose mission is to provide education programs to prevent eating disorders. In addition to her non-profit work, she has written an award-winning Bible study birthed out of her own struggle with an eating disorder, to help others on their recovery journey and empower them to find freedom in Christ. At present, Jennifer works as an eating disorder recovery coach with the Kirsten Haglund’s Virtual Transitional Living Program for Eating Disorders. However, she enjoys most her role as mom to her three children. Learn more at jennifersmithlane.com.