My struggle with anorexia nervosa began at the age of seventeen. Even after a month in an inpatient treatment program and then years of regular sessions with doctors, therapists, and dietitians, I still struggled. But through this trial, the Lord drew me into a personal relationship with Him and began to heal me from the inside out. He slowly refined me as He revealed my sin and chipped away at my shame. He made me into a new creation, and my life has never been the same. As 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
At the beginning of my struggle, I wish I would have opened up to my friends. I was scared to tell anyone outside of my immediate family the truth of what was going on. I felt ashamed and guilty, and I feared sharing my eating disorder secret would mean I’d lose my friends. I don’t think my friends recognized what was happening, or if they did, they didn’t know how to address it.
If your friend is struggling with disordered eating, or you believe they might have an eating disorder, please talk to them. Ask God to give you the words to say. Pray for wisdom and discernment. Pray for grace and compassion. Then set aside time with your friend for a private, distraction-free discussion.
Start by asking her if she is struggling—rather than placing blame or judgment. She’ll feel better knowing that you gave her a chance to speak and didn’t automatically assume she has a problem. Assure her you love her and value her friendship. The National Eating Disorders Association recommends you gently talk to her about behaviors you’ve witnessed that concern you. Start your sentences with “I” rather than “you.” For example, “I’m concerned about you because [fill-in-the-blank].”
During your conversation, keep in mind that an eating disorder isn’t ultimately about food. In my own experience, my obsessive desire for control, approval, and perfectionism, plus my lack of trust in the Lord, led to my manipulating my food and eventually restricting it altogether. People with an eating disorder tend to isolate themselves, so you’ll want to approach her truth and love.
Here are five conversation-starters that have been helpful to me in my own recovery:
1. “I love you, and I don’t think of you any differently. Do you know that God also loves you?”
This is perhaps the most important statement you can make. Assure them they are worthy and loved. God loves the least among us—the sinners, the broken, the hurting, the messes. “He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). He didn’t come to save perfect people but broken ones like you and me.
2. “We all have our struggles. In fact, I struggle with X.”
We all struggle. Even if you don’t wrestle with a full-blown addiction or disorder, you currently face or have faced some sort of temptation of your own. Opening up to your friend fosters trust, reminds her no one is perfect, and will help her be fully honest with you in her recovery.
3. “You are more than your weight/fitness routine/the food on your plate.”
Talk about your friend’s character, not her physical appearance. We so often resort to looks—from body shape to hairstyles to clothing—when starting a conversation with someone. Compliment your friend on her intelligence, her kindness, and her courage. She is already hyper-focused on her body, so even if you think telling her “You look healthy,” or “You are beautiful!” is helpful, focus on her internal values instead. Remind her how brave she is for choosing recovery and healing.
We know as believers that our identity is in Christ alone. Reassure your friend of this. Being a Christian doesn’t mean you’ll no longer struggle, but it does mean you’re no longer a slave to sin (Rom. 6:6). We were created in His image and bought at a price. He is making us new.
4. “Would you like to come over for dinner on Friday?”
Friends who cook for me and invite me to dinner are such a gift. Someone who is in recovery will need a lot of support around her, particularly during mealtimes. Satan works in isolation. Don’t give him that chance.
5. “How can I best be a friend to you during this time?”
This gives her the opportunity to tell you how you can best serve her. If your friend is in recovery, they can tell you what they need from you, and they will appreciate that you asked.
Close your conversation in prayer. Pray for healing, restoration, and peace. Pray your friend would fully trust in the Lord in the midst of her struggle. Pray for your friendship. Then continue to follow up with her. Be a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Your commitment and consistency will go a long way.
True recovery from an eating disorder is possible through Christ. Our hope in Him is eternally secure.