I have for some time now been meaning to document the story of how an eating disorder was overcome in my life for God’s glory and that perhaps it might resonate with anyone struggling. Previous documentations have not included the victory that God has evidently had over the disorder, and I do believe the story belongs on this blog.
Also linking up with lovely Naomi for Monday’s Musings.
My Story, His Glory
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” ROMANS 8:1-2
I was young when the law of sin and death began entreating upon my life.
I loved, and understood my life’s purpose of serving Jesus Christ, as a little girl. However, I put a lot of weight on the promise of order and structure.
I was born on October 17, 1997, to two loving, wonderful parents, and with a beautiful one-year-old big sister, who was, at first, not thrilled by my existence. We have both heard the stories of her tormenting me, though I have little memory of them. My mom has often recapped the story of Krystal instructing me, yelling at me, to say her name correctly. I had been calling her Kittle, and she had apparently sat me down, pointing a finger at me, and yelled, “It’s not Kittle, it’s KRYS-tal. Say it!” I was barely a year old, and confidently, finally, said her name: “Krystal.”
I do, however, remember wanting nothing but to please Krystal, which perhaps stemmed from times like this. I remember planning what I would do for her birthdays so early in advance. I always let her pick the games we’d play, never even considering the option of my having a say. I was very content to do whatever made her happy.
Krystal had elaborate structures within her life of planning and rules. She had a rulebook in which she wrote what her outfits and hairstyles would be each day, from the age of five. I remember fits in which she would cry, feeling so inadequate if something “messed up” these plans, such as my mom not having time to style her hair in the morning. Sometimes, she would ask me to pick out her outfit based on certain selections, because she had to know it was “random.” When we played with our Barbies or Polly Pocket Dolls, we spent hours beforehand appointing the dolls names, ages, and who would act the role of each doll based on certain deciding factors that Krystal would come up with. When our younger sister, Courtney, was born, she quickly joined in our games, but her spontaneous approach often rattled and frustrated Krystal. I remember feeling conflicting. Parts of me loved the “safety” of the structures and order that Krystal had always implemented, while parts wanted to feel the freedom from rules that Courtney exhibited. I wanted both of sisters to be happy.
We know that something terrible happened to Krystal when she was not even a year old, at her babysitters’ one day. My mom recalls picking her up, and Krystal shaking, refusing to speak. She’d spoken to the babysitter, who rebuked any idea of suffering Krystal may have endured. This quite possibly may have been the leeway for the entrance of a spirit of law and order to enter in to her life, and also have its way with me.
Much of my childhood with my sisters, when I reflect, I remember as being fraught with these games of sequence and structure and rule, with Courtney rebuking the rule, Krystal strongly enforcing it, and me somewhere in the middle, confused by it all. I continued, though, to follow in Krystal’s footsteps. We shared a bedroom until I was seven years old; I began taking dance lessons after I saw her enjoying them so much; I also took singing lessons with her, and wanted to do Girl Guides after she began. Soon, I also began making lists and plans of my outfits and hairstyles, conforming more to order and rule, less like the spontaneous nature of my little sister, which was feeling more and more scary and foreign.
Now, some of these outfits that I wore to school ended up being quite strange. But I would feel stressed and out of place if I wasn’t wearing the outfit I had appointed for that day. In middle school, I recognized my peers’ reactions to my outfits, and knew that I was not very popular. I remember deciding that if I wasn’t going to be the pretty and popular one, I would just have to be perfect at everything else. I was a straight-A student, on every club and extra-curricular team thinkable (besides sports), I loved God, and I focused on being kind. Of course, the latter two are wonderful things intrinsically, but at this time, both focuses were muddled by a towering idol: that of law, order, and control.
The stress of focusing my own time and energy on obtaining perfection in all that I did, believing that my physical appearance would never fit that perfection, I needed a comfort for the stress; another area to allow myself not to be “perfect” in. When I was twelve years old, I binged on food for the first time. I woke up in the middle of the night and felt compelled to eat an enormous amount of food. I ate multiple loaves of bread and handfuls of pasta, mayonnaise, cookies, chocolates. I ate until my insides ached, and I was breathing heavily. I cried myself to sleep.
The next morning, I decided that no one would know about the binge. I ate normally all day, meals and snacks, but something in me had already decided that the binge was going to occur again. And these binge episodes happened a few times weekly over the course of the next few years, and I didn’t tell a single person.
A few months into the binges, I decided that I would learn how to diet. I became “perfect” at calorie counting. I knew the calorie, carb, fat, and protein counts in literally every food one could imagine. I began measuring my food, avoiding oil and sugar in coffee and “banning” certain foods. I began to regret the binges, but felt I couldn’t control them, and as I began restricting food intake during the day, the binges only got worse.
I was binge-restricting for over a year before I finally told my mom. I asked my mom if we could please see my doctor, and he began to talk to me about the importance of “knowing everything I put in my body.” I felt angry with him, because for the past year, I obsessed over every last thing I put in my body– excluding those things during a binge.
My mom could see that my doctor didn’t understand, and so I began to go to a therapist. I did a lot of cognitive behavioural therapy with her, and it certainly helped my behaviours. Midway through my tenth grade year, I went one month with zero binges, and I stopped seeing my therapist.
However, with the pause on therapy came the urge to binge again. And this time, the guilt and condemnation I felt afterward was unbearable– or so I thought at the time, at least. This time, I forced myself to throw up the food. I binge-purged only a handful of times over the next few months, before the day of the school semi-formal on April 18th.
I woke up really late that day, and ran out the door without breakfast or packing a lunch. After school, I went straight to my friend’s house to get ready, and remember feeling like I really did not want to eat. But I ate two eggs and some strawberries and we went to semi and danced the night away. When I came home I ate a bell pepper.
That night, I realized how proud I felt of myself for eating so little for a whole day. You deserve to feel huger for all your gluttony, something within said. And so, for the next several months, I barely ate anything. My daily regimen became a bite of banana in the morning, half a protein bar or a handful of nuts midday, and a few forkfuls of spinach and, a couple times a week, a bite of chicken breast for “dinner.” I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa on May 31st, 2013. That day my doctor told me that if I continued in this illness, I would die. I believed that I would rather die than gain a pound. But when the doctor asked me, “What are you gaining from anorexia?” I opened my mouth to reply, but soundless tears came instead. I knew that the illness was selfish, evil, and not doing anything– but all I could hear were the screams that said I needed to be the thinnest.
I was put on the waiting list for an outpatient eating disorders treatment centre, but my starvation levels only worsened the months leading up to my admittance, which was early August of 2013. Looking back, I was incredible blessed to receive help when I did. From May-July, I lost 80 pounds, my period, tons of hair, and my soul. I was fainting constantly, and yet working out in the middle of the night. I remember feeling my slow pulse each night in bed, each breath hurting my ribs. I couldn’t even register that I had gone so quickly from overweight to underweight. I was not happy or living.
The treatment centre implemented a system that got me eating again. My mom was told to take control of my meals, but this process was incredibly stubborn. I screamed and refused food at first, and finally agreed to eat– but only if I could watch her carefully measure out everything I ate. I counted all the calories, and my mom knew that my brain was still only focused on food– and hiding it, throwing it out whenever possible. I would hide food in my shoes, tuck it in my hair, scoop out the inside of bagels from my school lunches that my sister had to supervise. I focused every ounce of my energy on eating the least amount possible. And the practitioners, of course, saw that I was not gaining weight. They would dole out extra calories each week until I relented, crying, that I had been hiding food.
This whole set-up lasted about a year, and I was discharged. Physically healthier, but with virtually no difference in weight. When control of food was turned back to me, I still obsessed over its measurement, constantly planning my meals. The spirit of law and order was still my master, and impacted my every move. In twelfth grade, I experienced some trauma that went hand-in-hand with a relapse. I went back to see my old therapist, the one who had helped me with binge eating disorder.
I stabilized physically between twelfth grade and first year of university– enough, at least, to attend university. I began school at Wilfrid Laurier University, still under the power of a spirit of law and order. But things began to change.
I was enrolled in the Christian Studies program, though a relationship with Jesús had not been the centre of my life for some time. I had never lost the knowledge and conviction that He was my purpose, His glory my delight and His power endless, but I had stopped communicating with Him and chosen not to listen to His voice. Enrolling in this program, I met and was suddenly surrounded by godly people in whom Christ evidently dwelled, and I began to recognize the Holy Spirit speaking to me as I had when I was a young girl. This began my understanding of His conviction over the way I was living in submission to a spirit not of Him; the idol that was the eating disorder; manipulation and control of food.
Along with beautiful friends, I met a man whose heart and spirit I understood and felt more aligned with than I ever had with another person. We began dating midway through my first year, Johnny aware of the eating disorder and patiently expectant and prayerful of Jesús’ provision and guidance. As I began to grow in the Lord and receive the work He was doing in me, I became more and more convicted. My fear of Him resulted in simply more desire for His glory and revelations, and I began to hate the idol of food– but did not know how to stop controlling and focusing on what I ate, did not know how to “just eat.” Even though I knew that it was wrong, it seemed and felt so impossible to stop.
Going into my second year of university, Johnny was attending a university in a new province. Our relationship now long-distance, my appetite decreased at first, and, with a spirit of law and order still operating, this gave leeway to more starvation. I relapsed again, losing more weight and reaching a new low-weight. When Johnny came back for Christmas, it was more obvious to him, and my family, and friends than ever that this disordered way of living needed to go. And I knew too, by the grace of my Lord and Saviour Jesús. I knew I needed help, ultimately His help, to live fully submitted to Him. Johnny and I decided that, for His next semester in Winnipeg, we would communicate only via letters– no texting and no phone calls. I also began to have sessions with some spiritual councillors.
These months have been both the most difficult and most incredible months of my life. The spiritual councelling was exhausting work, but I was determined to uproot the stubborn illness that I was submitted to, whatever it was, for the Lord alone, that He might more fully reside in me so that I could serve Him without any bondage.
Throughout the councelling, the Lord began to reveal memories as I prayed, memories of my childhood submission to law and order, of my first love and unhealthy adoration of cookbooks– all the while convicting me of what needed to go.
I began to have vivid dreams of myself tearing up the rule books I had literally written out in the form of magazines. Food rules that I had abided to a tee for the past five years. Eating without these rules felt so scary, but each day I began to hear more loudly the voice of my Lord, let them go and come to Me.
Finally, on January 29, 2017, I was making oatmeal in my kitchen, carefully measuring it out, having just turned down a lunch date with a friend, when I was overcome by the need to pray. I fell to my knees in worship, crying, Lord, Lord, help me! Take this from me, take this from me, Lord I am so sorry.
My phone has been on silent, and when I stood I saw that I had missed two calls from my dear friend and sister in Christ, Josee, so she had texted me:
Cassie, you are chained by association to anorexia.
Don’t let a Jezebel spirit allow you to keep from pursuing the Lord.
The time is now. Give it up. Talk to Him, and call me if you need.
I knew with every ounce of me that this was the Holy Spirit. Physically and spiritually recognizing His leadership, I knew what needed to happen. I called Josee, told her about the magazines that I knew needed ripping, and Josee began to pray.
And as she prayed, I tore up the magazines, sobbing, and eventually breathing an immense sigh of relief. I knew in that moment that I had just put the eating disorder at the altar. I verbally, confidently repented of the eating disorder, rebuked it in my Saviour’s name, and asked for His forgiveness and protection.
And I knew that I was made new in Christ Jesús.
I was radically healed from what my doctor told me was one the most stubborn eating disorders he’d ever encountered. I do not engage in eating disorder behaviours. I am alert and energetic, have focus in conversations, and know my purpose of living to serve and love the Lord and love others. I see the evil of the spirit of the law and continue to ask the Lord to convict me of any remnants of it in my life or in those around me. And He has given me a song of deliverance of His name– the provision of healing He has for all.
Reunited with Johnny this summer, and living back with my family, I am pursuing the Lord, enjoying food as a simple, necessary blessing, still passionate about cooking but in no way obsessed. I am free from law and order in Jesús Christ– and while I thought it was only food rules protecting me from harm, I now see how Satan was using them, those dead and meaningless food rules, to control and dictate my life negatively, where the spirit of Jesús is one of self-control, selflessness, and serving– abiding by which brings the joy for which we were created.
I am blessed by an amazingly supportive family, friends, and boyfriend, all people God has used in the process of redeeming my life for His glory. Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” I know that I am now more equipped to bear others’ burdens myself by the grace of God alone.
I eat what I am served, I eat when I am hungry or when I feel like it, and I never thought I’d understand how people can do that so simply. Food rules that became such a habit, Jesus healed me from in an instant– while also little by little– and I will never stop singing His praises for this life that is about so much more than food and what goes into my body.
And today, I am smiling with tears in my eyes, thanking God for how good He is to me, knowing that all I can give Him in return is all of me– and I do so with delight.