It was easy to be bulimic.
My struggle with bulimia was brief but intense. It happened during my third year of college. At the beginning of the summer, I had broken up with my high school sweetheart after a yearslong relationship. The split cut deeply, leaving me in a downward spiral of depression. When school started, I was still reeling: melancholic, lost and anxiously searching for a way to regain control over my personhood and the direction of my life, both of which I felt I had lost.
I was living in an apartment, not the dorms, so I was responsible for my own food purchases and preparation rather than relying on the dining halls. The bulimia started because of my own culinary inaptitude, really. Disinterested in cooking, I started occasionally making meals out of fruit.
I started losing weight. It soon dawned on me that through my diet I had complete control over my body—a type of control I felt I had lost to my ex-boyfriend. That realization was empowering, and the sense of power was addictive.
I ate. I tried to not eat. I overate. I felt guilty. I forced myself to vomit. I exercised unrelentingly. This cycle became my routine. Over the course of nine months, I lost about 20 lbs. While this was not severe, it was not insignificant either considering I was 120 lbs to begin with and have always had an athletic rather than petite build. While 100 lbs can certainly be a healthy weight for some, it was not for me.
I used to reflect on this period of my life and wonder, “Why bulimia?” I think about how I engaged in other behaviors to try to regain a sense of control. There was the obligatory post-breakup haircut. There were piercings and tattoos.
But nothing gave me quite the same satisfaction as knowing that I was the sole authority deciding what entered and exited my body. For me, it wasn’t about the weight or being thin. It was about power. It was about controlling my body. And it was about self-punishment, a method of controlling my pain.
As I grew thinner, people noticed. And they praised me. “Wow, did you lose weight?” friends asked. “Hey, you look great!” they told me. Nobody ever suspected that anything was wrong. Comments like these only fueled my efforts. Even as I grew increasingly thin, nobody ever expressed concern.
I knew I needed help but was too ashamed to admit this to anyone, least of all my mentors and friends at church. There was zero discussion of eating disorders, body image, or the relationship between physical and spiritual health at the churches in which I was raised.
Instead, there had been fear-inspiring lecture-esque lessons about our bodies being holy temples, and implicit messages that I would be tarnished, punished and perhaps unworthy of God’s love if I didn’t treat mine honorably.
So I stayed silent and warred privately. It was easy to hide. My body continued to shrink, and my shame grew. “Good Christian girls don’t deal with this sort of thing,” the voices in my head told me. “God is probably mad at you. You should be ashamed of how little self-control you have,” they said. The more time passed, the more convinced I became that nobody in my social circle, and especially in my Christian community, would be able to relate or be willing to help me.
There eventually came a breaking point. One day I found myself readying to throw up, and a heavy sense of brokenness washed over me. I paused and started crying. I felt shame and guilt, ugly and dirty, unworthy and hopeless. I was tired of trusting in myself, relying on my own actions, for a sense of security in a world that I viewed as an emotional mine field.
For the first time, I accepted that I had the power to choose out of bulimia, day by day, meal by meal. I knew that nobody else could or would make that decision for me. And so my slow healing journey began.
Now, years later, I know that God was continually with me in the midst of my bulimia and the greater internal turmoil from which it stemmed. I know that he saw my suffering and was grieved by it. He has offered boundless grace and restoration—physically, emotionally and spiritually.
I have gained the weight back and then some, and my body is something I now value, respect and don’t take for granted. I have also learned that my bulimia was linked to PTSD (another story entirely), which has helped me better understand its psychological roots and feel better about it being a somewhat normal symptom of the internal chaos I was battling in tandem.
And now I try to bring conversation into the church about physical health, body image and even eating disorders. God has something to say about the way we view and treat our bodies. We are spiritual beings, yes, but this side of death, we have physical bodies and therefore physical ailments. Having worked in youth ministry for a time, and in this day and age when the media has such a powerful influence over what our physiques “should” look like (usually for the worse), I am acutely aware that we cannot afford to let these topics remain taboo or think that Christians are categorically immune.
I hope we can be salt and light by communicating that there is acceptance and support in the church for people struggling with body image or eating disorders, not distanced judgment. I hope the church can be an educated community, unafraid of open dialogue and ready and willing to step into people’s messiness. I hope we can be living testimonies that God can heal all wounds. I hope it is not as easy for others to be bulimic as it was for me