Discipling people struggling with addictions

These are pages taken from our ‘Good News For Real Life’ booklet. They contain short introductions to some common pastoral struggles. Think of them as conversation-starters to help us begin to understand and respond to complex issues. Not as experts but as brothers and sisters in Christ — pointing one another to Jesus with words of hope and grace.


In other words: to walk together as those with good news for real life

WHAT IS ANOREXIA?

Anorexia is an eating disorder where women and men deliberately try to lose excessive amounts of weight in order to control some deeply painful emotions – it might include extreme dieting, the use of laxatives or excessive exercise. People often think they’re fat when they are dangerously thin. Anorexia can impact people physically (at its most severe it is life-threatening), emotionally (it is often associated with depression) and socially (people can often withdraw from situations where meals are being eaten).

HOW DOES ANOREXIA FUNCTION?

Sometimes life is desperately hard: people are bullied, people are exposed to perfectionistic environments and people are abused (physically or sexually). These experiences can lead us to feel that life is out of control, that we are horrible people or that we somehow need to change before we are acceptable to God and others. Sometimes people respond to these pressures by thinking things like, “if I could just be thinner, I would be more successful”, “I may not be able to control much in life, so I am going to control what I eat” or “being sexually abused was horrible so I am going to make sure my body looks as asexual as possible now”. Sometimes these thoughts are conscious, sometimes subconscious, but they encourage people to lose as much weight as possible – and to keep on losing weight even when it is medically dangerous to do so. Sadly, there are some “pro-ana” communities online which encourage those struggling with anorexia to keep focused on starving themselves and not listen to family, friends, doctors or pastors who are trying to help.

WHAT WON’T WORK?

While encouraging people to increase their food intake gradually is good, telling people to “just eat” won’t work. People struggling often say that being made to eat feels like being raped and simply increasing someone’s food intake doesn’t solve the underlying struggles.

HOW CAN I HELP SOMEONE WHO IS STRUGGLING WITH ANOREXIA?

Encourage them to see their doctor and dietician. Medication and advice may help.

Listen to their story. How have they been hurt? What future fears do they have?

Listen to what false beliefs they hold about themselves – and God

Share words of comfort and love (Psalm 27) – explain what life could be like if they can conquer their eating disorder (give them something wonderful to aim for)

Share stories that help them see the sovereignty of God (Genesis 37-50)

Share how God sees them (Ephesians 1) and dwell on his loving, powerful nature

Encourage them to remember that God grows us through his gentle grace not through us treating our bodies harshly (Colossians 2)

Encourage them to express their emotions in song / art / writing and prayer

Encourage them to live as Jesus wants even when life is hard (Philippians 1)

Help them to fight the temptation (Ephesians 6) – and encourage accountability

Help them to worship Jesus as their good, wise, sovereign King who is always right

FURTHER READING

A New Name by Emma Scrivner (IVP)

More about the author :

Helen Thorne

Helen Thorne