Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Leslie Basham: When it comes to eating right, willpower isn’t enough. Here’s Elyse Fitzpatrick.

Elyse Fitzpatrick: Instead of getting up in the morning and saying, “I’m going to do it today! Today, I’m gonna eat right,” I’m getting up and falling on my face and saying, “Father, I want to look to Jesus today. I want to think about what He has done today, what His death on the cross in my place for this sin means to me today." Then I want to look to Him to help me. "And, Lord, if I fail today, or if I succeed today, I pray that You would be glorified and that You would teach me about what true holiness is.”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, February 10. Over the last week, we’ve gotten great advice on food from Elyse Fitzpatrick and Nancy Leigh DeMoss. They’ve given us a balanced biblical perspective on being healthy without falling for worldly ideas of beauty.

Today they’ll address an important topic: eating disorders. We’ll start with a question from our audience.

Woman: Elyse, I wanted to ask, in your own counseling, when there’s a problem with anorexia or bulimia, do you ever advise women to seek medical care? And if you do, on what points could you advise others that there’s a need for medical care?

Elyse: Yes, I do. I do advise women. Usually by the time a counselee, a young girl, gets to me, they’re already involved with a physician. But I would say, just as a general rule, women should take their daughters to the doctor regularly.

If they are struggling with these issues, particularly they should do so. There are certain danger places where if a girl is twenty percent under her optimum weight, she definitely needs to be under a doctor’s care.

I would always encourage women to make use of the physicians. I don’t think at all that that flies in the face of being faithful to the Lord. The doctor will be able to tell whether or not that young girl has so damaged her body that perhaps she needs to have a feeding tube for a while, or perhaps she needs to take certain supplements. A physician would be able to do that.

I would say, if you are concerned about a daughter, you’re concerned that perhaps she’s getting too thin, or you’ve noticed that she’s been throwing up, I would get on that fairly quickly because women can damage their esophagus by vomiting.

You want to put an end to that as quickly as you can and have a physician advise you on that. So yes, I would have a physician involved pretty much as soon as I knew that something was going on.

One of the ways I think that a mother could measure whether or not a young woman was really in trouble with her eating was whether or not she’s ceased having her menstrual cycle. If her menstrual cycle has ceased, or if it’s not regular, then she’s in trouble.

What her body is doing is shutting down systems that aren’t necessary, and that’s one of the first ones to go for young girls who are either very overweight—and their body is really struggling to keep that body functioning—or they’re very underweight. So that would be one of the ways.

I would very definitely have a physician involved all along the process, and let him say, “This is what she should weigh.”

Nancy: Elyse, continue on this thought of mothers and daughters. Are there factors in a home, in the way parents “parent,” that may tend more to lead daughters into anorexic or bulimic behaviors?

Elyse: I think that there probably are, but I want to start out by saying that you can be in a given home where you have three daughters. One of them might respond to the dynamics of the home by starving herself. Two of the other daughters might be perfectly content and happy.

I think that the way we respond to our environment has more to do with the bent of our own personal hearts than our environment itself. That being said—and I don’t want to negate that in any way—I do think that I have seen certain factors that play into anorexic (particularly) and bulimic behaviors.

Generally speaking, there might be in the home an emphasis on looking good. I see it a lot in ministry children, children whose parents are involved in ministry. That’s generally because ministry families live in a fishbowl.

Nancy: They’re public.

Elyse: They’re very public, and there’s a lot of emphasis on how we look, outwardly. Perhaps there’s a lot of criticism if a child looks a certain way or isn’t responding in a certain way. I would say you can see a dynamic in the family, usually in the mother, of a desire for her children to look and function in a certain way.

First of all, I think that we need to really help ministry families by not being critical.

Nancy: Or placing unrealistic expectations on them.

Elyse: Exactly . . . putting them up on this pedestal, thinking they ought to have certain things in their life. Certainly there are standards in Scripture, but I think that we’re doing them a disservice in some ways.

Nancy: Now, talk about looking good. For a mom who has a ten-year-old daughter who is overweight, she is chubby, should the mom be drawing that to the child’s attention, making an issue out of it? . . . not making an issue out of it?

Elyse: I think that she can draw it to daughter’s attention, but only in the sense that she’s talking to her daughter about going to Christ for satisfaction, and not saying to her daughter, “You don’t want to be chubby.” You see?

Because we’re automatically focusing that little girl’s heart on how she looks. I don’t know, but I think most of us are vain enough already. We don’t really need our mothers telling us to be more so.

For me, it’s so important when I see little girls in church not to come up to them and say, “Oh, isn’t that a pretty dress you’re wearing.” That’s how we always do, isn’t it?

I need to be more focused on saying to little children, “I really appreciate how you’re sharing that toy. That tells me that Jesus is working in your heart.”

See, having a focus like that instead of this other focus, which is so incredibly futile . . . "Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain.” (Pro. 31:30) Do we believe that?

Nancy: We say we believe it.

Elyse: We say we believe it, but do we? I think we can tell whether or not we believe, particularly by the way we function with young girls. So, I think also—as long as I’m on my little soapbox here—I think it’s very important for a young man to be taught what true beauty is, and to be taught what it means to find a wife who would be excellent for him. Young men aren’t being taught that, either.

Nancy: So mothers in the raising of their sons can really be adding to or helping with, this whole issue, by the kind of girl they’re trying to get their sons interested in, or the way they’re pointing out what beautiful is.

Elyse: Right, exactly. So I do see that dynamic. I don’t want to say I see it all the time, but I do see it. I see also, it seems to me particularly among anorexic girls, a dynamic of a mother that might be overly controlling, trying to micromanage her daughter’s life.

One of the ways that the girls can fight against being micromanaged is by saying, “Okay, well, fine. I’m going to eat what I want to eat, and you’re not going to tell me what to do. And you know what, I’m going to starve myself, and you can’t even stop me!”

That’s an ungodly, sinful response, but still I think that sometimes we see a little bit of that going on in the family. But again, you can have a family where those dynamics are happening and some of the girls just respond and they’re fine, and it’s not an issue.

It’s how our hearts interact with the environment. The environment doesn’t create our hearts, it just reveals our hearts.

Nancy: Yes. So, if a mother sees these signs in her daughter, or knows that that they’re in full bloom—self-induced starvation, or the bingeing and purging behaviors—how proactive, how directive should the parents be in saying to this girl, “You need to get help”?

Elyse: They need to be very proactive. Anorexia will kill you. Bulimia, perhaps not so much, but sometimes among young girls bulimia does tend to slide into anorexic behaviors, so they need to be very proactive.

One of the things that I think is very helpful is if they’re in a congregation where there are wise women, to find a wise woman who perhaps could go through Love to Eat, or any of a number of books, with the girl. To take it out of the realm of the mother saying to her, “What are you eating? I want to see what you’re eating.” That kind of thing.

Because if it is a response of, “I don’t want you to control my life,” then let’s move it away from it a little bit. It’s not that the parents shouldn’t be involved. They should. But I think that sometimes we can use the means of the body of Christ—a wise woman in the congregation—to come alongside that girl and help her.

Woman: I just wanted to share with you that I have a daughter who will be sixteen in December, and I think you could take her picture and put it in almost everything I’ve ever read about bulimia. She could be the example . . . all the way from how it started to the way it’s progressing, and some heart changes that I’ve seen, in her attitudes, as a result of it.

She is a believer, but as I look around at her friends, and just even in my Christian environment, too, I see so very few emotionally and spiritually mature fifteen-year-olds who can walk through this and handle this the way that maybe some of us could right now.

I’ve been strongly convicted even this morning. But I feel discouraged sometimes because it seems like her lack of spiritual maturity, combined with the fact that I think she has just simply seen that she has found an easy way out of paying the consequences for an out-of-control kind of behavior.

I just feel kind of helpless, and I feel kind of like I don’t know how to handle this as a mother. I’ve been told by several counselors, and I see it myself (and you addressed it) that the mother cannot be the counselor in this case, especially when that’s part of the dynamic of what is the problem itself.

I don’t know how to handle this even when I know what’s happening, when I see that she’s bingeing and I know what’s going to come afterwards. Or when she says, “Can we stop by and get an ice cream? I haven’t had one in so long.”

That just happened the other night, and my impulse was to say, “I guess so. But that costs three-and-a-half or four dollars, and I don’t want to get that for you if that’s just going to make you want to go home and go to the bathroom and purge.”

It just came out, and I don’t normally just say things like that, because I haven’t really discussed what to say and what not to say with someone like a counselor. But she said, “Okay, I won’t.”  And she ate it, and she didn’t. So she didn’t respond real negatively to it.

But I just wonder, how much of that kind of thing do you say, and how much do you keep to yourself and just pray, and take them to a counselor and let it take its course?

Elyse: I think there would be a couple of things I would say. First of all, I think that one of the most helpful things that a mother can do is to ask her daughter, “What is most helpful to you? Is it helpful to you for me to say something, or is it helpful for me not to say anything right at that minute?”

You can ask her that when she’s not in the middle of a big struggle, when things are kind of normal between you. If you ask her, “What’s most helpful to you? All I want to do is to be able to serve you in this, so please let me know what’s most helpful to you. What do you want me to do to help you?”

Another question would be whether or not she really wants to change. If she doesn’t, if she’s a believer but she doesn’t see it as sin, then she needs to, perhaps with another woman in the congregation—which is what I would recommend—just sit down and begin to ask questions.

“Why is this behavior sin?” See, a lot of these girls who are believers really struggle with it because they’re not going to Christ. What they’re doing with it is sort of playing with it, because sometimes they want to get better, and sometimes they don’t, and sometimes they want to get better because they just want to get their mother off their back.

What they need is to see that what they’re doing is sinful, and to see the reasons why it’s sinful. That would be something that I would have someone else in the congregation go over with her, and then, as the Lord begins to convict her—if she’s a believer—then she’ll begin to hate the sin, not just because it’s perhaps harmful to her body, not just because it gets her in trouble with you, but because it’s an affront to a holy God.

You see, when you put it in that category, then all of a sudden, like Nancy was saying before, we have now the resources of heaven. It’s not just me trying to get better with some little problem. It’s a sin, and now I have a Savior, and now I have the Holy Spirit, and now I have the Word of God.

All of these things can speak into my life and strengthen me to fight this war. You see, if she’s not convinced that it’s sin, then basically it’s something she’s just going to try to manage enough to get you to leave her alone.

That’s another thing you could talk about, either with her, or have a wise woman in the congregation—or perhaps you have a sister or someone in the family whom she loves—that would be able to talk with her about that. That’s where you have to start with her. Get her to see it as sin, not just an embarrassing behavior.

Nancy: Elyse, help us with when we say “besetting sin.” We’ve used that term. What do we mean by that?

Elyse: An area of sin that you would find in your life that you continually struggle with . . . something that you find yourself continually tripping over, frequently . . . something that you are in some ways enslaved to.

Hebrews 12 tells us to “run with patience the race that is set before us,” to not be tripped up by these besetting sins. I hate to make categories of sins, but these are to me a different sort of category than . . . Let’s say that one time I sinned by gossiping about somebody, but it’s not generally my habit to do so, and I repent of that, and that’s not a major area in my life.

Or perhaps I find myself always gossiping about people. If I find that’s sort of a river that flows through my life, a pattern, then I would say that that would be a besetting sin.

Nancy: What I’ve found in my own life, in this very area particularly (and it may be a different area for you) is, there’s some sin where you’ve said “no” to God and “yes” to your flesh. Or you've said “yes” to temptation so many times that you now have established—or the enemy has established in your life—a stronghold in this area. All he needs to do is ring your bell and you come running.

There are some sins I’ve committed in my life that are not a stronghold, they’re not things that plague me, they’re not things that nip at my heels all the time. But this issue of gluttony, compulsive overeating, greed with food, has been for me an area (and for many of you who have come to be with us today) where maybe for years you have so given into the lust and desires of your flesh, that now you find yourself feeling enslaved.

This is something that I revert to. It’s my default to move into this pattern. That’s where we need to recognize that first of all there is freedom, there is grace, there is hope. Those strongholds, those chains can be broken.

I was thinking of the hymn just in the last twenty-four hours, “He breaks the pow’r of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free." And that’s what we're really talking about, whether it’s this area of food or any other area of your life, Jesus is Lord.

If you’re His child and His Holy Spirit lives in you, there is hope to be free. Not that you may not struggle with the temptation, not that it may not be an area where you always have to be guarded and careful, but that there can be genuine transformation into the image of Christ, and victory and freedom in that area.

That’s what we keep coming back to saying, it’s not going to happen overnight, particularly in the area of a besetting sin where there’s been a habit pattern established.

Elyse, in your book you talk about habits. My dad used to always say, “Bad habits are easy to make and hard to break, and good habits are harder to make and easier to break.” But you give such hope as you talk about the fact that we have all of heaven’s power and the grace of God at our disposal to help us establish new and godly patterns.

Elyse: It’s so encouraging to me that this struggle is not something I’m in on my own. As a matter of fact, that passage we were talking about in Hebrews 12 that talks about that we should “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith."

You see, I am not going to be victorious in this if I’m looking to myself. (That’s already obvious.) I have to look to Jesus. I have to “consider,” the Bible tells me, “him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted in our struggle against sin” (Heb. 12:3-4).

That’s what I need to do instead of getting up in the morning and saying, “I’m gonna do it today! Today I’m gonna eat right.” I’m getting up and falling on my face and saying, “Father, I want to look to Jesus today. I want to think about what He has done today, what His death on the cross in my place for this sin means for me today. Then I want to look to Him to help me. And, Lord, if I fail today, or if I succeed today, I pray that You would be glorified and that You would teach me about what true holiness is.”

See, if I start my day in that frame of mind and with the power of the Holy Spirit, then it’s not, “Oh, today I’m going to eat right.”

Nancy: And whatever the issue is that you’re facing, I want to encourage you to look to Jesus, to look to Him for His grace, for His strength, for His power, for “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

You can’t do it in your own strength. If you try to fight the battle on your own, you will lose. But as you look to Him, you really will experience His power to overcome every area of sin in your life.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss, and our guest, Elyse Fitzpatrick, have been giving us balanced perspective on food all this week. This is a serious issue, because it’s about surrendering everything to the Lord. I hope this week’s series is just the beginning of a process of surrender for you.

To explore the topic more deeply and to decide what it means to live out these ideas in your life, get a copy of Elyse’s book Love to Eat, Hate to Eat. You truly can be free from any kind of bondage to food. God can give you the strength you need in this area of your life, and this book will show you how to make any needed changes and give you the perspective you need.

Can we send you a copy? It’s our way of saying “thanks” when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size. We’re able to bring you helpful programs like this one because listeners support the ministry financially.

When you help us in the mission of leading women into freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ, we’ll send Love to Eat, Hate to Eat. Just ask for the book when you donate by phone. The number is 1-800-569-5959, or visit

Why do some people make such a big deal out of the Bible? Isn’t it just a book? Ink on a page? Nancy will address that question on Monday. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts, with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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About the Speaker

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love …

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