Rebekah Burcham, June 2012. Photo by Samuel Burcham.
I became a Christian at three years old, staring hopefully up at my mother as she spoke of Forgiveness right before a spanking. Seven years later, I was baptized in my neighbor’s hot-tub by my then-pastor father. I was raised on theological discussions in the kitchen over pancakes, on my dad talking luminous wisdom in answer to bedtime questions while I wriggled my toes in his hands, and on mom reading aloud bible and missionary stories while my little brother and I took turns massaging her shoulders. Jesus was just as real in my life as peanut butter and dandelions.
But when I turned twelve, my life became consumed by an eating disorder, a god much less merciful than Yahweh.
We were moving again, puberty was squeezing and plumping my body in terrifying directions, there was more time for fights over vacuuming and washing dishes than for growing my friendship with my parents, and I suddenly cared about brushing my hair and applying lip gloss. Food was a quick fix for a bad day. A handful of chocolate chips here, a bowl of chips there, and a rush of sugar or carbs would spike my mood. And as my depression grew heftier, so did my eating, until I was indulging in full-scale binges when nobody was looking. I isolated myself in my room, grew dark circles under my eyes, and started gaining weight.
One day I decided that if I just lost weight, I’d be happy. Maybe even beautiful. So I started tracking my calories and jogging after lunch. After a few weeks, someone commented, “Hey, have you lost weight? You look great.” The spark of pride was nothing to compare with the high of a binge. Besides, it’s not like I tasted the food I binged on, it was shoveled too fast down my throat. But this pride? Oh, I tasted it.
I restricted my calories to 1,000 a day, then 800, then 300, then 0. I wouldn’t even allow myself vitamins – each capsule is 5 to 10 calories, after all. I snuck out at 5am every morning to run two hours, keeping it secret so I could run again after lunch without anyone picking up on my new obsession. I lost 30 pounds in the first three weeks. I was victorious!
At parties, I always knew where the food was, how much I had eaten, and how I could avoid eating anything else. I dreaded sleepovers, because there were always m&ms and Fritos. I spent hours calculating and recalculating my calories, adding extra because I was sure the packages had the numbers wrong. I went vegetarian and started the South Beach Diet so that I could concoct separate meal plans for myself and eat alone, enabling me to hide food in my room or dump it out when people turned their backs.
But I didn’t think I had an eating disorder. Wasn’t this normal?
Then my willpower cracked. I ate. And ate. I’d even pretend to be sick so I could stay home and just eat and eat. I felt bulging and sick and miserable. A few weeks later I forced myself back on the scale. The number horrified me. I did sit-ups until I gagged and forced myself to restrict again.
I’d begun a new cycle of binging and restricting. Every day I was either binging and overeating, or pouring soap in my cereal so I wouldn’t eat it and hiding sandwiches in vases. My weight fluctuated wildly, keeping me in a frantic wrestle between elation and despair. I even started cutting myself to regain control, but I became addicted to pain and blood as well. My eating disorder had taken over.
It was only then I realized that my behavior was not normal (no kidding), and that I was addicted to this disorder. I was out of control. I’d eat in bathrooms. I’d chew and spit into my cup at the dinner table. I’d throw food under my little brothers’ chairs and hide it in my sleeve. I’d steal marshmallows from friends’ pantries. I started vomiting, sometimes to purge binges, sometimes just lunch. I’d gain ten pounds, then lose it, all in the same week.
But I came to the realization that I wanted Jesus more than I wanted to be thin. And thin to me was more than buying new jeans and looking trimmer. Thin meant happy, worthwhile, cherished, intelligent, loved. Thin meant becoming beautiful. Thin meant becoming a woman worth fighting for.
But I want Jesus more. He has already fought for me. He has already called me beautiful. And He is offering freedom.
And I’ve taken it! I’m free! I wake up glad to be alive. I walk through my day with my Savior at my side, delighting in His love and His companionship. I fight with my disorder often, old thoughts rearing their cobwebby heads, but they no longer own me. My heart belongs to Jesus.
To those who struggle with eating disorders, He is the only thing I can offer. I’ve tried yoga, organic food, self-esteem, and counselors. I’ve tried friends, journaling, long walks, and success. Nothing else has the forever-and-ever, purifying to the bone, soul-scrubbing and soul-healing and soul-transforming force of Jesus Christ.
His arms are open to you just as they were to me. Start running, don’t look back. There is nothing behind you but death, and nothing ahead of you but joy.
The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
– Isaiah 35: 1-4