Biblical Answers for Eating Disorders

One of the most common types of addictions in this country involves eating either too much or too little.  A majority of people in our society are overweight while our society applauds a youthful, slim figure.  This paradox has resulted in the problems of overeating, anorexia, and bulimia, though there are often other more serious factors involved.

 

For some reason our society discounts the significance of eating addictions except when they result in very significant health problems.  Many churches have even exasperated the problem by encouraging overeating through numerous social events that promote eating and fellowship.  The Bible calls overeating gluttony and associates it with drunkenness and rebellion.

   

De 21:20  And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.

 

          These problems again find their origin in an addictive personality or codependency.  As with other addictions, the client is making food or body size the integrating force of their life, or their God.  This is clearly stated in the story of Eli, the priest, the grandson of Aaron, who judged Israel after Samson, beginning in 1st Samuel Chapter 1. 

 

            1.  The addict usually comes from some sort of difficult or dysfunctional heritage.  Eli means “to ascent” or “my God.”  His father was Ithamar, the youngest son of Aaron.  Ithamar means “palm coast or palm island.”  According to Wilson (1957), palm trees stand for living the Christian life under adverse circumstances.  Both of his brothers were killed for offering wild fire before the Lord.  He was born either under the yoke of slavery in Egypt or in the wilderness.  Aaron (Ithamar’s father) had not been allowed to enter the Promised Land, because he and Moses had disobeyed God at Meribah. (Deuteronomy 32:51,52) 

 

            2.  The addict is trying to control his own life, cope with the emotional pain within and somehow meet his own emotional needs.  Eli’s name (my God or ascent) could possibly suggest that he had become his own god, or he was trying to improve or make himself into somebody important. 

 

            3.  Addictions distort the client’s ability to see things objectively.  Eli interpreted Hannah’s emotional pain as drunkenness.  Since he had a problem with eating and drinking himself, he must have thought that she had a similar problem.  The person with an eating disorder many times has a very distorted view of life.  Those with anorexia and bulimia usually see themselves as much heavier than they actually are.  They also believe that eating (or not eating) is the most important thing in their lives or that if they are not thin, they will be rejected and are worthless.  

 

            4.  Addictions affect the entire family.  Our children reflect who we are.  Eli’s sons were named Hophni (boxer) and Phinehas (mouth of brass).  They were characterized by fist fighting and being judgmental.  These behaviors are usually related to struggles with low self-image.  They were also immoral, as seen by their actions (of sleeping with the women who came to the temple and extorting from the people parts of the offering that priests were not allowed to eat).  Their desperation to obtain the fat of the offering suggests they depended more on eating than on God to meet their needs, and probably had an eating disorder. 

 

            5.  The addict will do whatever it takes to get their needs met.  Eli and his sons were taking part of the offering that was to be sacrificed and Eli refused to discipline his sons.  Possibly his shame concerning his own weight made him sympathetic to his sons’ abusive behavior.  The following verse suggests both Eli and his sons were making themselves fat.  Consequently, God warned Eli that his actions were unacceptable.  


1 Sa 2:29  Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice and at mine offering, which I have commanded in my habitation; and honourest thy sons above me, to make yourselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel my people? 

 

            6.  God will honor those who honor Him in the way they live their lives.  This includes every aspect of their lives; including eating.

 

1 Sa 2:30  Wherefore the LORD God of Israel saith, I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before me for ever: but now the LORD saith, Be it far from me; for them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed. 

 

            7.  If the client will not deal with his addiction, God warns him that judgment will fall not only him, but on his children.  Eating addictions and problems of weight affect generation after generation.  A list of the consequences that accompany eating addictions are found in the following verses: 

 

1 Sa 1:31  Behold, the days come, that I will cut off thine arm, and the arm of thy father's house, that there shall not be an old man in thine house.  32  And thou shalt see an enemy in my habitation, in all the wealth which God shall give Israel: and there shall not be an old man in thine house for ever.  33  And the man of thine, whom I shall not cut off from mine altar, shall be to consume thine eyes, and to grieve thine heart: and all the increase of thine house shall die in the flower of their age.  


1.      Premature death.

2.      Providing a foothold for Satan in a person’s life.

3.      It limits the blessings of God.

4.      It affects our children’s salvation and walk with God.

5.      It destroys spiritual insight and body image.

6.      It grieves the person’s heart.

7.      It causes the person’s children to die prematurely.

 

These are the direct effects of an eating addiction.  In addition, heaviness leads to a sedentary lifestyle which is related to problems like high blood pressure and diabetes.  Anorexia and bulimia can lead to early death due to malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies.  Putting the things of this world ahead of God, to meet our needs, gives a foothold to Satan in our lives and may lead to other addictions.  The quality of our lives and our blessings are greatly diminished by overeating, anorexia, and bulimia.  Demonstrating hypocrisy and a lack of full commitment to God in our lives provides our children a poor example to follow.  Our spiritual insight is limited by our love for the things of this world.  The Bible tells us that “there was no open vision” in the time of Eli (1Samuel 2:1b).  It took Eli three times before he realized that God was trying to speak to Samuel.  We also find in verse 2 that Eli’s “eyes waxed dim.”  Physical loss of sight can also be a result of diabetes.  The domination of food or the obsession with having a slim figure in our lives can grieve our hearts because we know that these things have become more important to us than God, and that what we are doing is sin.  Eating addictions tend to be continued from generation to generation, and will have the same consequences in the generations that follow.

 

             8.  The addict may have difficulty doing what is right in other areas of his life, including parental discipline.  When God spoke to Samuel about Eli, he cited Eli’s failure to restrain his sons from continuing to do evil. 

 

1 Sa 3:13  For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.  14  And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever. 

 

             9.  After a while the addict believes that he cannot change even when he knows that the consequences are catastrophic.  When a person has an eating addiction, even the numerous warnings of a trusted medical doctor may go unheeded.  Notice Eli’s passive response after Samuel told him what the Lord said was going to happen. 

 

1 Sa 3:17  And he said, What is the thing that the LORD hath said unto thee? I pray thee hide it not from me: God do so to thee, and more also, if thou hide any thing from me of all the things that he said unto thee.  18  And Samuel told him every whit, and hid nothing from him. And he said, It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good. 


             10.  The psychological weakness provided by the addiction will eventually lead to an all out attack on the believer.  The Philistines (satanic forces) attacked Israel in full force.  The Israelies lost four thousand men.  Four stands for God’s government of men on the earth.  This suggests that God has taken His hand of protection off the addict to allow him to learn from his consequences.  They had pitched at Ebenezer which means “stone of help;” but God did not help them. 

 

1 Sa 4:1  And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside Ebenezer: and the Philistines pitched in Aphek.  2. And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel: and when they joined battle, Israel was smitten before the Philistines: and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men.

 

            11.  The addict must realize from his failures that only God can deliver him.  The Israelites realized that without God they could not beat the Philistines.  The answer to addictions is faith in God, but the client must do his part. 

 

1 Sa 4:3  And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us to day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.

 

           12.  Without repentance, even relying on the very presence of God will not defeat the addiction.  Either the client will repent, do whatever it takes, and trust God for his deliverance or his addiction will eventually overcome his faith and take away his salvation (the Ark of God).  Without repentance, Hophni and Phinehas were killed along with 30,000 Israelites, and the Ark of God was captured. 

 

1 Sa 4:10  And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen.  11    And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain. 


           13.  The consequences of not dealing with an addiction will suddenly take its toll.  A man from Benjamin (son of the right hand) delivered the message to Eli.  Eli fell backwards and broke his neck.  It was his over-weight body that killed him! 

 

1 Sa 4:17  And the messenger answered and said, Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there hath been also a great slaughter among the people, and thy two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken.  18  And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy.  And he had judged Israel forty years. 

 

           14.  The final end of the unrepentant addict is the loss of the presence of God in his life.  As she was dying, Phinehas’s wife gave birth to a son and named him Ichabod.  Ichabod means “the presence of God has departed.”  The message is again clear, either the client will serve and trust God for his needs, or his faith in his addiction will overwhelm the very presence of God in his life. 

1 Sa 4:21 And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband. 

 

            These should be sobering thoughts concerning an addiction that our society tolerates and which churches rarely confront.  This story clearly illustrates that the consequences of an addiction—any addiction—can be catastrophic to the person, their family and their spiritual life.  The answer is also clear.  The addict must repent of his idolatry and reliance on the things of the world and turn his trust to God to meet his emotional needs.  Counseling or support groups are usually required.  The principles for recovery from addictions that have been discussed in the previous Chapter apply. 

 

            However, even if the client is able to overcome his desire to medicate his emotions through eating, how is he to lose or gain weight in order to achieve a normal healthy weight?  Diets alone do not seem to be the answer because most persons quickly return at least to their pre-diet weight.  We must help the client develop faith that they will be able to successfully change their weight and help them modify their “set point” which fights any change in weight.  If a client needs to loose or gain a significant amount of weight, I first address the underlying issues.  As additional resources for helping clients deal with the addictive portion of their problem I use The Thin Disguise (1992) by Pam Vredevelt, et. al. and Conquering Eating Disorders by McGee and Mountcastle (1993).  I them suggest a simple experiment.  They are to set a goal of changing their weight by no more than ten pounds and ask God to help them achieve it.  They are to fast, diet, or make life-style changes in order to achieve the goal.  They are to weigh daily and if they have gained or lost beyond their goal they are do what is necessary to maintain that weight for at least one month.  Maintaining this new weight for a significant period of time will change their set point.  Now their body will fight to maintain this new weight instead of fighting them to return to their old weight.  Each time they succeed their faith grows that with God’s help they can eventually successfully achieve a healthy weight.

Steps for Overcoming Eating Addictions 

 

1.    Understand that the underlying problem is a family history that has lead to emotional pain and a need to feel in control. 

 

2.    The addict is trying to control his own life and meet his own emotional needs through eating or external appearance.  Eating or how he or she looks has become a god to meet these needs. 

 

3.    God sees eating disorders as serious problems and expects everyone to honor Him and their bodies in the way they eat. 

 

4.    Eating addictions result in serious consequences including premature death, serious medical problems, loss of spiritual insight, and give Satan a stronghold in the client’s life. 

 

5.    Eating disorders also affect the addict’s children and will bring similar consequences to them if they do not deal with the problem.  God holds everyone responsible for dealing with these issues in the lives of their children. 

 

6.    The client’s must repent, face his emotional pain, obey God in his eating, and choose to meet his deepest needs through God; or judgment will come. 

 

7.    The client must be willing to die to himself, put his faith in God, and due his part to overcome his addiction. 

 

8.    Without repentance, the end result of the addict will be the loss of the presence of God and a defeat in his life at the hands of Satan. 

 

Books on Eating Disorders

Watch to Video on Eating Disorders (from the book and course Transformation) Below Beginning at 31:23:

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