August 10, 2015

Eating Disorder or Disorderly Eating?

by Clint Archer

In a previous post we examined Fat Secret: The Invisible Sin of Gluttony. But that food for thought is only one serving among a smorgasbord of other gastronomical sins and dysfunctions. self control

Anorexia nervosa (voluntary starving), bulimia (self-induced vomiting), comfort eating (ice-cream therapy), and muscle dysmorphia ( or “megarexia” – a fear of being too small) are all staples in a psychologist’s handbook. Some of these may have a physical malfunction as a catalyst, but often they can be a direct result of sinful thinking.

In that case these types of “eating disorders” might more accurately be termed “disorderly eating.” The former label connotes a malady that has beset you, but the latter admits the responsibility for the problem lies with you.

I certainly don’t want to oversimplify the complex psychological and physiological factors involved with debilitating eating conditions. The body and the mind are so inextricable that one can’t just flip a “stop-it” switch to shut off a behavior without risk of physical consequences. For example, if an anorexic patient suddenly begins to eat copious quantities of solid food, they may actually die.

All I’m saying is that in cases where one’s behavior is causing health deterioration, we need to enlist the help of not only physicians, but also the counsel of godly friends to assist with applying Scripture and prayer and the guidance of the Spirit to bring about gradual change and healing.

Physical and mental conditions are sometimes actually spiritual conditions masquerading as an illness. The remedy is not just nutritional replenishment but spiritual repentance.

The Bible acknowledges that our appetite is linked to our emotions, health, and at times spiritual state. Our eating habits can be a diagnostic test of our soul’s health.

Psalm 102:4 My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread. Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my flesh. … For I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink,

Psalm 107:17 Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; 18 they loathed any kind of food,and they drew near to the gates of death.

Proverbs 23:20 Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, 21 for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.

Proverbs 25:16 If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it.

Phil 3:19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

dysmorphiaThe Bible is also clear that food, though fraught with danger of abuse (like sex and money) is still a wonderful gift of God. Right use of groceries presents a cornucopia of creative ways to glorify him.

Eccl 3:12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

Eccl 10:17 Happy are you, O land, when your king is the son of the nobility, and your princes feast at the proper time, for strength, and not for drunkenness!

1 Tim 4:3 […False teachers] who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

Rom 14:21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.

1 Cor 8:8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.

1 Cor 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Col 2:16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.

All this culinary consideration is making me salivate. I’m off to revel in my New Covenant liberty with a bacon burger.


(Thanks Tim Challies for pointing out this article that adds to the growing body of evidence that obesity is pandemic.)

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
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  • Christina

    Thank you for the Biblical perspective on the challenge of weight. I often feel judged by those who don’t battle their weight. They don’t understand the physical (I do have a thyroid problem and knee injuries that make workouts difficult at time) or the emotional issues that cause a person to overeat and then beat themselves up for it. Hopefully this will provide a little perspective for others while also providing scriptural support to those of us who are struggling.

    • Thanks for sharing Christina. I’m glad you found this helpful.

  • tovlogos

    Very relevant article, Clint, and very well done.
    “but often they can be a direct result of sinful thinking.” I am glad you added this because human instinct is to try to solve all problems without divine help.

    “applying Scripture and prayer and the guidance of the Spirit to bring about gradual change and healing.
    Physical and mental conditions are sometimes actually spiritual conditions masquerading as an illness. The remedy is not just nutritional replenishment but spiritual repentance.” I dare say, every physical action has a spiritual component.

    This is what’s great about the discipline of Christian Counseling — it really works in countless ways, which proves the sufficiency of Jesus.
    The Bible is very spiritual, however, so practical in the most mundane circumstances. This article shows one of those circumstances.

    • Right. And I think many people underestimate how inextricable the body and soul are from each other.

      • tovlogos

        True, in Western cultures where the body is devalued by adornment, and endless satisfaction, in contrast to some Eastern religions that consciously disrespect the value of the physical body.

  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    I take it then that applying 1 Timothy 4:4 (For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving) is not an excuse to eat a warm apple fritter before bedtime with great joy and gratitude in my heart? I may have been misapplying that verse. 😉

    • I’ve never had an apple fritter, but it sounds like the type of thing I’d find it easy to receive with thanksgiving!

      • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

        Check your local bakery or just wait for the banquet in heaven. God created fritters because He loves us. 🙂

  • I have fibromyalgia. I was told for years that is was all in my mind. They are now finding out that it is a real illness. I think that anorexia is a real illness too. something has gone wrong in the body. Now they are finding out that trangenderism is a real illness too. It isn’t something that people decide on. I didn’t decide to be in pain.

    • Jason

      Of course they are real illnesses. The word illness describes a state of being unhealthy. We can agree that none of these conditions are healthy. I also agree that people don’t decide on these things.

      The discussion here isn’t about whether we should ignore these illnesses or treat them, but rather what type of treatment will actually lead to health.

      Just because something is phychological doesn’t mean it’s not an illness or isn’t a problem. Nor does a person need to choose to be unhealthy for the answer to be spiritual.

      Every person is born a slave to sin and that master doesn’t ask around for the slave’s consent. Many illnesses are the result of this unhealthy relationship. God offers freedom from that slavery and, therefore, health for those issues.

      There are also physical illnesses that can have quite effective physical treatments. Sometimes those two types get muddled (by both medical professionals and the church) to disastrous effect. As the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer all the problems start looking like nails.

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