In this post, I’m reviewing Table for Two: Biblical Counsel for Eating Disorders for two main reasons. First, it’s pertinent to embodiment, and second, it provides biblical help in an area where the church needs more guidance. But I also battled an eating disorder that I reflected on here. While my issues are in the past, unhealthy thoughts and behaviors with food and exercise occasionally still arise, so it helped me check my heart.
Authored by married couple, David and Krista Dunham, the book is a short, easy read written from the perspective of both the sufferer (Krista) and the helper (David Dunham). There are assessments and very practical helps throughout. In seven chapters, they walk through understanding an eating disorder, how to progress towards change and identifying underlying motives, core beliefs, and identity issues that cultivate and exacerbate the problem. They detail the thoughts and habits that need to be reconstructed, and how to achieve healing together.
Those with disordered eating behaviors. If this is you, while you’ve never dealt a full-blown eating disorder, you teeter on the edge. Signs of disordered eating are frequent dieting, anxiety with certain foods, skipping meals, stringent eating and exercise routines, false guilt and shame related to food and exercise, and/or preoccupation with negative body image that revolves around eating or exercise. You may be one phone call, an unexpected situation, or a tough day away from those occasional behaviors becoming a daily issue.
Those with a loved one who currently battles an eating disorder or has in the past. This book guides both the sufferer and supporter. It offers key insight for those seeking to help a loved one.
Those with a daughter driven towards perfection and high standards. I’m just being brutally really honest here because I was this daughter. Statistically, girls with this personality type have a greater chance of developing an eating disorder at some point. By preemptively reading the book, you can potentially foresee and steer your daughter away from turning to an eating disorder in a quest for control and normalcy.
I’m a recovering perfectionist. I can look back and recognize the personality tendencies that made me the prime candidate for developing an eating disorder. Driven, type A, high standards, negative self-talk, and perfectionistic. The qualities were there, and all I needed was something to give me a little shove off the cliff. That something came in my early twenties – a trial that arose out of nowhere, flipped my life upside down, and left me broken, reeling, and alone. My life felt out of control, and with that driven, determined mindset for order, I sought control through severe calorie restriction and over-exercise.
The effect was set on go. I just needed a cause.
Thankfully, social media didn’t exist back then, or I may have had issues at an even younger age. Studies have found a direct correlation between social media usage and negative body image. That reality only increases the risk of an eating disorder. So, I say all this now for parents and others to be on top of these things in your loved one. Recognize her tendencies, guard her from extreme thinking, help her walk through unexpected trials, in order to steer her away from engaging in the destructive behaviors of eating disorders.
Krista developed an eating disorder while she and David were dating, and he supported her as best he could. Both biblical counselors now, they write knowing that, “whether you are a helper or sufferer, for most people, the path to recovery from an eating disorder is brand new territory.” Their book is uniquely useful in that it highlights both perspectives as they sought to navigate new waters.
Krista had the same, typical personality tendencies as I did. A car wreck triggered her, which despite being unharmed, left her feeling she had no control over her own life and death. She recalls, “I began grasping at any control I could get my hands on…years of thoughts and actions led to that moment” when she first began to engage in over-exercise.
Although she knew the physical harm she was doing to her body, her heart wasn’t ready to give up the destructive behaviors.
David encouraged her to talk to others, recognizing he couldn’t support her enough on his own. Krista recalls how helpful David and others were once she eventually opened up and let them in. But she also shares a critical recognition, “as much as I needed someone to come alongside me during this battle and as much as I valued the help that was being given to me, I could not expect anyone to keep me from harm 100% of the time.”
Being a Christian, she came to understand others couldn’t be the Holy Spirit for her. “With the help of the Holy Spirit, I had to learn how to make daily choices to stop thinking the way I had been thinking…The gospel had already freed me from the enslaving power of sin, but I needed to daily believe that and live in light of it (Romans 6:6)…I had to choose to do this.”
I recall having that same recognition of choosing to fight and battle my wrong thoughts that reiterated my disordered behaviors. But I could choose to fight and have victory over them through Christ. Because of his victory on the cross over sin, death, and Satan, as a Christian, I am identified with that triumph. That meant I had victory over my drive to under-eat and over-exercise.
From the helper perspective, like David, you must decide to help, which can be extremely challenging. This is especially true if the person you’re helping doesn’t truly want to work towards recovery. David writes that, “instead of ultimatums and forced repentance, cultivating change in others involves building trust and demonstrating love. People need support in order to change…Through talking, tears, and time, you demonstrate that you are committed to those who are suffering, that you will walk with them, and that you see them for who they are.” This is a powerful message for all those seeking to bear another’s burden (Galatians 6:2).
As a sufferer, when you’re ready for change, several things need to happen. I found the following very insightful from Krista. “Taking responsibility for your part in an eating disorder will involve seeing both the sin and the suffering interwoven in your eating disorder. It involves confessing your struggle to someone who can help…and committing to accountability. It involves diligent prayer to allow God to show you the deeply-rooted motivations that are the source of your behavior. And lastly it involves fighting to change your desires, thoughts, and attitudes by applying Scripture.”
Table for Two outlines several steps for dealing with eating disorders, but honestly, they’re crucial steps for anyone working through deep-rooted, coping behaviors. We all turn to different things in order to calm our mind and clear our thoughts. Yours may not be exercise, binging and purging, or food restriction, but you will inevitably lean on something to help you cope with life.
As Christians, we are to constantly, oftentimes moment by moment, turn our hearts towards Christ. Only by clinging to him can you handle life’s circumstances with right believing, thinking, and acting. It’s not about fighting in your own strength to cope and deal. It’s not even about what you do or don’t do. It’s about who you are in Christ, and what he’s already accomplished on your behalf.