By: Grace McCready
For about two years, I struggled with an eating disorder called “anorexia nervosa” and was officially diagnosed when I was 17 years old. This disorder isn’t as complicated as it sounds; for me, having anorexia meant I was fixated on my body and took drastic measures to change it. I deprived my body of the calories it needed by not eating enough and by exercising too much.
In short, my life revolved around being skinny—too skinny. In my attempt to attain the “perfect” body, I lived my life in the dark for years. I lied to my family and friends as often as necessary in order to keep my struggle a secret. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was hurting my body because I didn’t want them to make me stop.
Thankfully, God led my parents to intervene in my life, which resulted in my physical recovery. However, as I wrote about in my book, Real Recovery: What Eating Disorder Recovery Actually Looks Like, my mental, emotional, and spiritual recovery required much more time and effort. Still, although I didn’t recover quickly, God used many people in my life to help me recover gradually. Even today, I consider myself to be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually recovering because I still have to fight to against my anorexic tendencies.
Maybe you’ve never struggled with an eating disorder, but it’s very possible that you have a friend who’s struggling with an eating disorder. Perhaps she’s very secretive about it, or perhaps she’s very open about it. Personally, I barely talked to anyone about my anorexia besides my parents, even during the first couple years of recovery. Now I have a book published about it, so I’ve definitely started talking about it more!
Whether your friend is private or transparent about her eating disorder, however, I encourage you to follow these suggestions as you walk alongside her:
1. Educate yourself about eating disorders.
Eating disorder “jargon” can seem like a foreign language if you’ve never struggled with an eating disorder. But there are so many resources available to educate yourself on what the warning signs are and how they manifest themselves. Of course, be cautious as you research and know that non-Christian resources will have a different perspective on eating disorders than Christian resources.
2. Be willing to talk about uncomfortable things with her.
It’s difficult to say the phrase “eating disorder” out of fear that your friend will perceive you as judgmental or presumptuous, but focus on your friend’s health and wellbeing instead of how she might perceive you. Show grace in your conversations, but also ask direct questions if necessary. Be honest about your own struggles—whether you’ve struggled with an eating disorder or something completely different.
3. Don’t say cliché things to her.
By this, I mean avoid telling her things like, “You’re beautiful just the way you are,” and, “Beauty isn’t skin deep.” Not only has she probably heard these things too many times already, but clichés are typically impersonal and not rooted in Scripture. Thinking of something thoughtful, supportive, and Biblically-based to tell her would probably be more beneficial.
4. Encourage her to get professional Christian support.
If your friend is struggling with an eating disorder, it’s likely that she needs more help than you can give to her as her friend. But you can definitely suggest that she seek professional Christian counseling! If you bring up the topic of counseling and your friend seems uncomfortable, it might be helpful for her to know if you’ve personally benefitted from therapy.
5. Be vigilant in your prayers for her.
Ultimately, you can’t make your friend go to counseling or change her diet or care less about exercising. However, you can pray that she sees the truth about her dangerous habits and that she has the strength to change. God can accomplish somuch through your prayers, and He wants you to pour out your heart before Him.
To close, I want to sum up this advice with a passage written by James:
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:16-20)
Grace McCready is a twenty-something who lives with her parents and two sisters. Although she doesn’t enjoy drinking black coffee, running marathons, or reading books, she does enjoy spending time with her family, chatting with her friends, and watching her favorite TV shows. She graduated from Bryan College with a double major in business administration and communications. Her writing has been published across the web and in print. She is the author of Real Recovery: What Eating Disorder Recovery Actually Looks Like (2022), and she writes about the Christian life at Tizzie’s Tidbits of Truth.