My Battle with Anorexia

It normally doesn’t surprise people to find out that I have had a battle anorexia. It’s almost cliche: a ballerina wants a serious career, and ends up with an eating disorder. But it’s not just something to pass by. Eating disorders are dangerous, no matter what your circumstances. As we find ourselves in the middle of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I felt it was important to take a moment to talk about my experience and offer encouragement to anyone finding them in the mental trap that leads a person to destroying their body.

Back from my ballet days!

My battle may not surprise people, but it may surprise people to know that I had no idea what I was doing was clinically called “anorexia.” Like any other lie we believe, it starts out so subtle. It wasn’t like I woke up one day and decided to starve myself. It was one small choice after another that led me into a place of bondage to behaviors.

I don’t use the word “bandage” lightly. Most people think that people that struggle with eating disorders simply hate food. It’s simply not that simple. In my experience, food was ALWAYS on my mind. I was bound to thinking about food.

Around the time I weighed the lowest.

This bondage was not just in my head, though. It was spiritual. I know for a fact, because of the miraculous moment God used helped me start my path of healing. I had gotten home late one night, and I went straight to my room. My roommate and I didn’t talk much, in fact, my life was pretty isolated (that should be a big red flag!). I decided to take a shower after logging my calories for the day. I spent the whole time thinking about how I could eat even less tomorrow, feeling depressed because I still didn’t feel skinny enough. Then, like a light bulb suddenly flipping on, I realized what I was allowing myself to do: I was anorexic.

But just as quickly, I felt God pressing on my heart. I pressing towards repentance. It didn’t hear a voice, or see a vision. It was a just a moment that God placed in my path to respond to. In my heart, I cried “Oh, God, I’m sorry.” That very moment, I swear I felt a dark cloud lift off of my shoulders. Every thought became clear. I felt like I could stand up straighter. I felt a peace I hadn’t felt in a long time. Something dark left me at that moment.

It was amazing! I can’t tell you why God allowed me to have such an extraordinary experience. It did change me. But there was a lot I still had to learn:

It’s spiritual as much as it’s physical

I’m so very thankful for the advances in modern medicine that can help people with eating disorders. Doctors and scientists continue to gain more and more understanding on how to meet the needs of struggling individuals. They know how to better help the brain, nourish the body and heal past trauma and wounds. But, just because we have these advancements doesn’t mean we can ignore the spiritual side of things.

We have an enemy that wants nothing more than to keep us in bondage. He wants to keep us so preoccupied with lies that we can no longer live in the freedom of Christ. He wants to make us feel powerless in the battle. But we are not powerless! In fact, we are victors.

It is one thing to fight a battle thinking you may or may not win. It is another thing to fight knowing that you are already the winner. When we place our hope in Christ, we are given His victory over the enemy. We do not have to keep falling for Satan’s traps, so we continue to stay in bondage. Hope says we CAN be free.

Healing the Heart

I wish I could tell you that after that amazing moment with God, experiencing peace and hope, everything was all better. It wasn’t. In fact, sadly, I lost more weight in those following months. It took well over a year of more struggle and suffering to finally get to a healthy place.

Why? That is the question I was asking myself. I knew what I was doing. I knew it was the enemy that tricked me into the mess. But I was still struggling. Other people around me tried to help by saying platitudes like “just pray” or “just have more faith.” They were right… in a sense. However, there were underlying issues that needed to be dealt with.

My heart needed healing. I had some major childhood wounds that left me feeling desperate for any sense of control. My shame was so great that it dictated how I viewed both myself and those around me. Anorexia wasn’t the cause of my despair, it was a symptom of something much deeper.

Healing of the heart is a large part of helping anyone struggling with a spiritual and mental battle. Those that struggle with eating disorders may find, like me, that the disorder is just the scratching the surface on deeper healing that needs to take place. This is not always the case, but from my experience talking with others, it often is.

Moving Forward

I have felt healthier now, more than ever. I believe much of this is from healing of my soul!

Counseling was a key part of my healing. Fixing my physical issues through nutrition and medication put me in a place where I could actually fight this battle. If I’m honest, sometimes those old thoughts come back. I am 10 pounds heavier than my healthy “active” weight. I am 40 pounds heavier than I was at my lightest weight. Sometimes, I fight the thoughts of needing to control my weight, feeling value by how I look, and punishing my body in a way that will destroy me. However, now, it is much easier to fight. It is much easier to recognize the lies as they come and to deflect them by speaking and reading the truth.

I may be heavier than Alyssa from 10 years ago would approve of, but I feel good! I am healthier now than I was through most of my teenage and young adult life. Not only has my body healed from the affects of anorexia, it has healed from the affects of trauma.

I am not a counselor, nor do I have training to help people with eating disorders. so I don’t have all the answers. It may be that those who battle wit eating disorders may have temptations to fall back for much of their lives. Like me, you may have to become wise to the tricks of the enemy and allow yourself to get help and healing.

If you struggle, I cannot tell you enough how helpful counseling was for me. I realize it may feel easier to hide the battle, but the most powerful thing you can do as a first step is to bring it out to the light.

If I could sit down with you right now, I would tell you that it’s worth it. It may be hard, but not as hard as continuing in bondage. Not to mention the terrible toll that eating disorders take on your body for your whole life. Find a professional with experience in dealing with this area. Ideally, talk with someone that could speak the truth of the Word of God to you, while teaching you ways to change your thinking and create new behaviors. Surround yourself with people that can understand your struggle and help you fight. Most importantly, fill your mind with the Word of God – slowly but surely, it will change you from the inside out.

I didn’t know there was hope when I was in the middle of the battle. But now, I do. There is hope, and you are not alone.

Living the Hope

The small Midwest town I live in has a school with a unique name: Hope. 

Hope College is one of the pinnacles of this small town. And though small for a college, it has a lot of influence in the community. For the first several years living here, the first question I was often asked was what year I graduated from Hope College. And unfortunately, I had to deliver the news that Hope was NOT my alma mater. But I find some humor in the fact that “hope” (the noun, not the college) is something God has been “schooling” me in since moving here.

It feels like hope has become a lost treasure in our society. Even in the modest, serene Midwest town I live in, I encounter not just a lack of hope, but emotional fatigue, despair, heartache, doubts and fear. It seems like hope should be a natural thing for Christians, but sadly it is not. 

We post beautiful and inspirational pictures on our instagram about hope, but what is it really? We talk about hope in our churches, groups, and communities, but how should it change us? We read about hope in the Bible, but what is our hope in? If you are like me, you have answers to these questions, in theory. But then turbulence hits and emotions still win over hope. Are we really living hope?

I just recently encountered the definition of “hope” for Webster’s 1812 Dictionary. Please take a moment to read it, then read it again. We can find rich truths here:

HOPE, noun [Latin cupio.]

1. A desire of some good, accompanied with at least a slight expectation of obtaining it, or a belief that it is obtainable. Hope differs from wish and desire in this, that it implies some expectation of obtaining the good desired, or the possibility of possessing it. Hope therefore always gives pleasure or joy; whereas wish and desire may produce or be accompanied with pain and anxiety.

Did you read it? Did you see that last line? Whoa! Am I right?  It seems likely that the anxiety, fear, and ultimately pain that I have been experiencing is ultimately tied to a wish or desire, rather than hope? Have I miss understood hope? 

Funny thing, one of the bigger landmarks at Hope College is a gigantic anchor sitting on the lawn of the incredibly ornate campus buildings. It’s appropriate, because it reminds me of this verse:

This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. Hebrews 16:19 (NLT)

Hope is that thing we need to hold us steady. To anchor, not just our emotions, but our very souls to something bigger, greater, and stronger than anything in this world. What is the “this hope” that the author speaks of here? 

I hope (see what I did there), that you take time to read more of Hebrews 6. In fact, all of Hebrews is an incredible book to read! In it, the author reminds his readers of all that Christ has done for us, so that we can have a relationship with our Holy and loving God. He tells us of God’s promises to us and the care he has for us, while also reminding us of the joy we will have when obeying God. And, he reminds us in verse 6:18 that God’s promises are true because God does not lie!

So let’s connect the dots…

1) We know hope is stronger than a wish or desire, and can produce joy. 2) Hope is what anchors our souls in this crazy world. 3) Our hope, as Christians, is in a God that has not only given everything for us, but gives us promises that will hold true for eternity. 

When I put these dots together, I realize where I often get off kilter. I think it goes back to the very first point. There is a piece of me that is not confident in God’s promises. I wish and desire for them to be true, and for him to come through for me. But, the expectation that he’ll actually do it? Maybe not.

Anxiety ensures. Fear reigns. Doubts take hold. I end up feeling defeated, drained, hopeless. I know this is not what God wants for me and you. I think that is why in another place in His Word, He says “and these three remain, faith, hope and love” (1 Cor. 13:13) God wants us to, by faith, hope in a God that loves us. We can have more than just a little expectation in God.

Hope a gift given from God, transferred to you and me by His Spirit. Hope comes with practice as we strengthen our spiritual muscles of faith. Hope comes through experiencing God’s faithfulness and taking time to remember it. In my experience, the best way to allow hope to grow within me is by reading the Word of God and spending time with Him. The more I feed myself of the nuggets of truth, the less I doubt His character and the more hopeful becomes my trust. 

We live in a world that completely counters God’s Word and His promises. You need to know that you will constantly be hearing messages that tell you why you should not hope. It permeates our souls more than we could possibly realize. God doesn’t just want us to read His Word as another religious box to check off. He wants us to know it so that we can constantly be alert to the lies of this world and remind ourselves of Who God is.
Hope is more than a wish or desire. Knowing where we set our hope can blow our anxiety away like a leaf in the wind. We can go from just knowing the hope, to truly living the hope. A process we are all in together.