Welcoming the Eating Disorder Community (Part 1)

Several weeks ago, I posted a question on Twitter about practicing hospitality with those who battle eating disorders. Several chimed in with thoughts and tips. One voice stood out though.

Holly’s thread of advice struck me as inciteful, well-informed, and gracious. I wanted to hear more. So, I invited her to write a guest piece for my blog. She agreed. I am happy to publish her thoughts in this two-part series. 

Part 1 — The Church and the Table

When we read the Gospels, it seems impossible to ignore the presence of the table. The breaking of bread, the drinking of wine, and gathering in homes is central to the rhythm of Jesus’s life, a rhythm that we as Christians are called to emulate. But somewhere over the centuries, we have decentered, if not completely forgotten, the table, the home, and the hospitality of our faith practice. Today in Christian culture we are almost always more likely to listen to a sermon, do a Bible study, participate in a service project, attend a conference—and on and on—before we ever make it to the table if we ever make it there at all.

Our lack of attention and narrow focus around food and bodies is a massive problem. Because whether we as the Church choose to center on food or not, we live in a culture that centers on food—and on a more fundamental level, we all must eat to live.

The Facts

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, surveys estimate 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.[1] For contrast, 5.7 million people are currently living with Alzheimer’s in the United States.[2]

This means almost 11% of our country’s population has or is battling an eating disorder, with this number not including the millions of people who are struggling with disordered eating, a phrase used to describe a range of irregular eating behaviors that may or may not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder.[3]

A survey of thousands of women done by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in partnership with SELF Magazine, found that “75 percent of women report disordered eating behaviors or symptoms consistent with eating disorders; so three out of four have an unhealthy relationship with food or their bodies.”[4]

THREE OUT OF FOUR. 75 percent of women. How can we not weep? How can we stay silent? How can we not be moved to action?

A Silent Epidemic

Eating disorders are a silent epidemic sweeping the world, and yet the Church has been devastatingly silent itself when it comes to addressing this issue. We are not preaching the good news God gives us about food and our bodies while people are literally dying. Every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder,[5] and eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.[6]

Whether you know it or not, you know people with eating disorders. Whether you identify it in yourself or not, you may very well be a part of that three in four. I know that I am: Beginning in high school, and still to this day, my relationship with food, exercise, and my body is far from the abundant life God has for me.

An Inescapable Battle

Ask anyone in recovery, and they’ll tell you there is no finish line—only the next day, the next step, the next moment to choose sobriety. Eating disorder recovery and sobriety are unique because you do not quit food like you quit alcohol or drugs. We still have to eat, we still have to have bodies, and we still have to move those bodies. That is not to say that eating disorder recovery is harder than other addictions and mental illnesses, but rather that it is unique. Food is everywhere, and our bodies are inescapable. The very things we find triggering are the body we walk around in and the food that that body needs to live.

I adore the table. I enjoy cooking and hosting, lighting candles, pulling out the china and lingering over dessert and coffee until way past bedtime. And yet today I did not eat lunch. Eating disorders, like all mental illnesses, are complicated and messy and hard to understand even after years of therapy and recovery work. But this is not an excuse for Jesus followers to not get their hands dirty.

Walking Together

Instead of avoiding and ignoring eating disorders, we must battle this darkness head-on with wisdom, grace, and gentleness. We must educate and equip ourselves. We must be willing to confront in love. We must be quick to change our practices, habits, and rhythms to better accommodate and fully welcome those struggling with food and their bodies.

Your sisters and brothers with eating disorders need you to walk this path of recovery with them. But for the journey to begin the Church must first be willing to recognize publicly — and regularly address — this disease that is so prevalent and simultaneously so invisible.

Hospitality is not an option for the believer, but rather a crucial invitation to bring the Kingdom to earth around our dining room tables, in our living rooms, and on our back porches. Our call to hospitality is a call to recenter the table of Christ. And while eating disorders try and mar the image of God on our bodies and twist the gift of food into the enemy, Jesus comes and redeems it all. He redeems my body. He redeems the table and the bread and the wine that sit atop that table.

In Part 2, Holly explores practical ways you can show hospitality to those who battle eating disorders. 

Holly StallcupGuest Author — Holly Stallcup

Holly is the founder & Executive Director of Rise, an organization committed to seeing the Church be the best place to be a woman. People are her passion. Rest for her is hot tea, good books, painted nails & delicious food shared with good people. She lives with her beloved dog Jack in Fort Worth, Texas. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.

 Join us in 2019 to read and discuss 12 books written by women (and enter this month’s giveaway for a chance to win all 12).

[1] https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/what-are-eating-disorders

[2] https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/facts-figures

[3] https://www.eatright.org/health/diseases-and-conditions/eating-disorders/what-is-disordered-eating

[4]  http://www.med.unc.edu/www/newsarchive/2008/april/survey-finds-disordered-eating-behaviors-among-three-out-of-four-american-women

[5] Eating Disorders Coalition. (2016). Facts About Eating Disorders: What The Research Shows. http://eatingdisorderscoalition.org.s208556.gridserver.com/couch/uploads/file/fact-sheet_2016.pdf

[6] Smink, F. E., van Hoeken, D., & Hoek, H. W. (2012). Epidemiology of eating disorders: Incidence, prevalence and mortality rates. Current Psychiatry Reports,14(4), 406-414.

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