Most people enjoy food, and some consider themselves to be “foodies”, loving the different tastes and flavours of various foods. Yet for others, food becomes more of a foe than a friend or at best a troubled friend. Their relationship to food, their bodies and weight is problematic since balance and freedom are not present. 

The strong focus of culture and media on external beauty subtly contributes to the dilemma of a never ending pursuit of a slender and toned figure. 

Losing sight of God’s perspective on their bodies and His purpose for it, they strive intensely to reach this goal causing an obsession with eating. Therefore clinicians call it disordered eating₁. It is different from eating disorders. Picture a spectrum with typical (or ‘normal’) on the one side and eating disorders on the other. Disordered eating will fall somewhere in the middle. 

Eating disorders on the other hand are classified according to strict diagnostic criteria which many people will not fit into. However, disordered eating could put you at risk for developing an eating disorder. Therefore it deserves attention.  

Here follows ten signs of eating issues with suggested solutions:

  • Regular dieting 

Going on regular diets to try and lose weight leads to yo-yo dieting patterns. Simply put, the yo-yo swings like this: you diet, lose weight quickly, then regain the weight once the dieting stops, that in turn motivates you to start dieting again. 

This kind of dieting leads to all kinds of negatives to body and mind. Research₂ indicates that losing weight leads to the body increasing appetite and protecting its energy storage. As a result, some yo-yo dieters gain back more weight than they lost³.  

Solution: Instead of using fad diets, consult a dietician to assist you with a balanced meal plan that will offer all the nutrients you need, whereby you can allow your body to naturally achieve its healthy state in weight and size. 

  • Any method to restrict weight gain

Apart from regular dieting, disordered eating involves all kinds of methods to reduce or control weight. From fasting, over-exercising, dieting pills and injections to skipping meals, self-induced vomiting and abusing laxatives.  

Solution: Realise these behaviours are self-defeating and harming to the temple of the Holy Spirit. Reaching your goal weight is a journey, not a rush to a destination. It’s a balanced lifestyle. Instead of setting a weight goal, rather set a goal to eat a number of healthy meals. This changes the focus without harming yourself in the process. Move away from the unhealthy behaviours and reach out for professional help. There are plenty of evidenced based methods to achieve your goals that will enhance your health and not harm it.  

  • Scale staring 

Preoccupation with how much one weighs can lead you to weigh yourself more often with the hope of losing or fear of gaining weight. This unhealthy relationship to the bathroom scale affects you in a negative way. You could feel worse about yourself, your body and it could affect your eating habits in a bad way₄. 

Solution: Consider ditching the scale altogether or weighing yourself maximum once per week. Keep in mind that many factors contribute to weight gain or loss and influence the number on the scale. Rather prayerfully work on your relationship with the Holy Spirit, yourself and food. 

  • Calorie counting 

Although measuring the amount of calories you consume could help you control your eating and weight, it could also be overused. Becoming obsessed with it leads to all kinds of stress. You may see food as calories and end up fearing or hating it. 

Solution: Instead of counting calories, rather fill your plate with enough nutritious foods to enhance your meal. 

  • Size matters 

When you are overly concerned with the size, weight and shape of your body, you might be at risk of developing an issue with eating and food. 

If how you look strongly influences your identity and self-worth, your self-esteem will hinge on whether you fit these criteria. If you happen not to look the way you think you should it could cause a slump in self-confidence leading to all kinds of unhealthy eating behaviours. 

Solution: Moving from body dissatisfaction to satisfaction should rather be the goal. Redefine your identity as more than weight and size. You are not your looks. God loves you and created your body. You have many different sides to you (like spouse, parent, friend etc.) Ask His help as you surrender your vessel. Be careful not to perpetuate unrealistic expectations set on you by media. Try to enjoy the journey in your body. Moving to a healthier body is good, but not everything. Loving the Lord and others with all you’ve got is everything. 

  • Food anxiety

When you rigidly avoid certain foods like carbohydrates and sugars and see certain foods as “good” or “bad”, you tend to gravitate towards disordered eating. People with these rules find social events stressful and what they eat actually contributes to anxiety. Cognitive-behaviour Therapy describes this pattern of thought: the more rigid the rules around food, the heavier will be the assumption that follows e.g. ‘if I eat sugar, I will get fat and then I will be ugly. I better not eat any’.  

Solution: Acknowledge your feelings of anxiety. Change the rigid description of food from “good and bad”, to “nutrition is the goal, every food group has a place and all foods can be enjoyed in moderation”. 

  • Guilt and shame

Thus, if your internal rules are this rigid, feelings of guilt and shame will follow your eating. Usually, this leads to disordered eating e.g. after you’ve had two small blocks of chocolate, guilt for breaking your rule kicks in that says:

 “I should’nt have done this! Now I have to figure out a way to fix it”. You then restrict chocolate, feel “relief”, but this only serves to strengthen your initial belief that chocolate is bad. 

The polar opposite could also happen. You break the rule, feel guilty and then binge the whole chocolate. The thoughts go something like this:

 “Oh no, I’ve had chocolate! I slipped up and I cannot recover from this!” Then you give up on recovery and overeat. Shame and remorse follow and it strengthens the initial rigid rule that “chocolate is bad and I should never eat it”. 

Solution: Following on from no. 6, consider more flexibility and balance around eating. Try intuitive eating, learning how to give your body what it asks for. Give yourself permission to eat what you feel like, distinguish between hunger and thirst and enjoy food. If you overate, remember God’s grace in Christ. You are not under condemnation, but God’s favour! Simply try again. 

  • Unbalanced eating 

As you’ve noticed, disordered eating is unbalanced. Either the person eats too much or too little, not enough of the needed nutrients, or even only the foods considered “healthy”.  

Solution: Make the goal to eat regular nutritious meals and snacks, enjoying food as a gift from God to feed your body and energise your day. Try to note when you are obsessing over food, and gently turn your attention back to the love of God for you in Christ.

  • Never good enough

Underlying all these patterns is a deep seated belief that you are not good enough the way you are. Your body should change. You are either not thin or toned or strong enough. Even if you reach your goal, you will not be satisfied since your belief says that you are not good enough. Thus, no matter how hard you try, you cannot win₅. 

The opposite is also true, you could believe you should be better than others or you are not good enough. This trap is similar since you will never be better enough and constantly try to improve yourself beyond what is necessary. 

Although it is not a problem to improve oneself and eat balanced, nutritious meals, the motivation and fundamental belief determines whether you will do so in a healthy way or not. 

Solution:  Work on seeing yourself the way God sees you in Christ. If you have accepted Jesus as your Saviour, you are holy and beloved in God’s sight. Give yourself that same acceptance even if you are not perfect. This enables you to work on moving your body to a healthy state. Give accurate feedback to yourself on your body but without the judgemental labels like ‘fat and ugly’. 

  • Comparing to others

These internal rules lead to comparing your body to that of others. You end up winning or losing and find your mood and self-confidence riding this wave. It engulfs you in this dance that drives your pride or shame. 

Solution: Surrender your right to be beautiful to the Lord. Accept that your body is His temple, take responsibility for its care and use it to live a life of gratitude and devotion to Him. Love others by accepting them in spite of their flaws. Give yourself the same grace. 

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10

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  1. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-recognize-the-warnings-signs-of-disordered-eating-and-what-to-do 
  2. Pathways from dieting to weight regain, to obesity and to the metabolic syndrome: an overview (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25614198/)
  3. How dieting makes the lean fatter: from a perspective of body composition autoregulation through adipostats and proteinstats awaiting discovery (A G Dulloo 1, J Jacquet, J-P Montani, Y Schutz)(https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25614201/
  4. Self-weighing among young adults: who weighs themselves and for whom does weighing affect mood? A cross-sectional study of a population-based sample (https://rdcu.be/dsC1r)
  5. Profiles of body image concerns and their associations with disordered eating behaviors (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0195666323025448

By Erich Schoeman – Clinical Psychologist