Eating disorder as a "sin"

A parent recently contacted me to express her distress at a radio show she heard on the topic of eating disorders. I have listened to some of the tapes and I do feel very concerned for parents who might hear the show and develop inaccurate ideas about the nature of eating disorders and faith.

The idea that an eating disorder is a "besetting sin," one that mothers push their daughters into, is deeply concerning to me.

I wrote to the radio interviewer (whose daughter has bulimia) and the author who is being interviewed  to share my concern. I am positive that they are both well-meaning people who are simply not aware that an eating disorder is a treatable psychiatric disorder and not a reflection of the morality or true nature of that person. Neither have responded.

I am sure that parents will have thoughts on this and may want to reach out to these mothers. I ask, as always, that it be done with respect and calm. This is also not a matter of religion or criticism of religion. I believe it is always best to assume that other people do not wish to cause harm and do not mean to - they lack information and should welcome it. 


  1. I have to chip in here, I am Christian, but I've moved very far away from any church. Why? Because I too, have been told by church members that eating disorders/mental illnesses are a sign that I'm filled with sin. One lady, who should have known better given that she had beat anorexia (apparently) and her daughter had beaten it, told me that I never had to try to eat again, I just had to ask God to heal me, and i would be healed. In the mindset I was in at that time, that was very dangerous - I could have taken it literally.
    I have had friends refuse medications after being told by their church that meds are mind control and that they need to drive the sin out of their lives.
    I'm not against God, and this is the minority not the majority. But it's sad how an ignorant minority can be louder and have a more lasting effect on the vulnerable than the helpful and genuine majority.
    Faith has a very real place in recovery from ED - most people I know who are completely better have a very strong faith. BUT, i guess like in the wider community, ignorance really hurts, people already struggling with self hatred who hear they are just sinful bad people are going to take that on board.

  2. Giant oy is all I can respond. Laura, you are more beyond generous in your tempered response!

  3. Faithandmeow I'm so sorry that you have had bad experiences with church because of your illness. I can see why Christians might think there is biblical precedence for arguing that prayer can heal mental illness. Jesus healed the mentally ill by "driving out demons". My take on this was that yes, he did, as in the story in Mark 5. That was the way he cured ALL those he cured whether they had illnesses we now regard as "physical" such as blindness or paralysis or as "mental" as in the poor man who raved so much he had to live in a cave. The difference NOW is that most responsible Christians would never dream of telling anyone to pray away Diabetes or Asthma but many still regard mental illness as somehow different. I don't really blame them. They are students of theology not medicine. They, and the rest of us, need a stronger lead from the medical establishment to teach that mental illnesses are just that, illnesses to be treated exactly the same as "physical" ones in a holistic way with assertive medical treatment, family and community support AND prayer from those of faith. When we get to that point we really will be following Jesus' example.

  4. Oh, Marcella: so beautifully expressed!

    Faithandmeow: I see that, too, that faith holds an important place for many families during treatment, but not all faith-based messages are equally helpful.

    And Hiker: Oy is right!

  5. I've been thinking about this one for awhile... I consider myself a Christian. I don't always exude Christianity, so I don't talk about it often... and I often feel like I know a different God than a lot of people (I tend to believe in the overarching themes in the Bible rather than specifics -- such as compassion, love, tolerance).. however, that being said, some people very much DO rely on specific passages and I wonder if this stems from the Biblical passage (Corinthians) regarding that your body is a temple of God (or the Holy Spirit). So by starving yourself, purging, over-exercising, etc you're not taking care of that temple. Thus are sinning.

    However, going by that logic, one would also be sinning by smoking... by not eating a balanced diet, etc...

    and there's the factor of choice there... yes, there is some degree of choice (if there weren't no one would ever be able to pick up that fork, put down those laxatives, etc), but it's a choice complicated very much by a mental health aspect...

    So I'm sort of ...meh... about this one.


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