Why Self-Esteem Isn’t the Answer

An eating disorder is a pride problem.

What? We spend hours every day raging over our shortcomings, we haunt mirrors in disgust, we pinch our fat, we write pages and pages of self-deprecating nonsense, we hate to go places for fear of being seen, we can never empty our heads of biting chatterchatterchatter- and that’s a pride problem?

C.S. Lewis wrote: “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” So pride isn’t thinking more of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself more. Pride is about who’s on the screen in your head. Who are you watching? Who are you listening to? Who are you thinking about? It doesn’t matter if you hate yourself. If you’re obsessed with yourself – whether your weight, your brain, or your feelings –  the problem is pride.

If pride is the problem, then high self-esteem, for all its positive affirmations and cheery promises, can never solve it. High self-esteem changes how you look on that screen, but it can’t change the channel.

Pride is self-consumption – we’re eating ourselves (remember that line: “it’s not what you’re eating, it’s what’s eating you?“). We munch ourselves into nothingness, like Shel Silverstein’s Hungry Mungry, until we’re just teeth snapping on air. We might love ourselves, or we might hate ourselves, but either way we’re going to run out.

We were created to feast on Jesus, to drink His blood and eat His flesh. (If that sounds weird, that’s okay, when Jesus said it scores of followers left him and his disciples berated him for bad marketing).  Trying to live on ourselves instead of Jesus is like trying to live on grass. We just can’t digest it. We’re eating, but we’re starving. Instead, we can nourish ourselves on His word, on His love, on His promises. Our souls respond to Him with fullness and delight, like a marvelous, guilt-free Thanksgiving. We turn from being self-centered to being God-centered, from pride to humility.

Humility, not high self-esteem, is the cure for your eating disorder. Recovery isn’t about feeling great about yourself, or knowing you’re thin and pretty enough, or realizing that you have so much inner beauty that you should stop worrying about the outside – it’s about Jesus. It’s about turning off that screen and following Him out into the sunshine.

How can you get humility? You ask for it. Get on your knees. Confess your pride. And just ask.

Wondering how to quit the self-esteem game? Read this!


Isaiah 35

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.

The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.

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.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

 And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
nor any ravenous beast;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,

They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.


The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.

– Zephaniah 3:7

The Lord delights in you. He delights in your you-ness, in both those things that make you you like nobody else and those things that make you human like everyone else. He delights in your passions, your skills, your loves.  Even when you are crouched and broken and ugly, even when you are stuck in disorderland and worshiping your thigh gap or a chicken sandwich, even when you have nothing but numbers in your head and nothing but acid in your stomach, He loves you so deeply that He sent His Son to be crucified to renew you. You starved yourself to death, but you didn’t die. He died for you. And then He came back to life, bringing you with Him.

Man does not live on bread alone, He whispers, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4)

I will beautify the humble with salvation. (Psalm 149:4)

I delight in you. He sings it soft as a lullaby, then as fiercely as a war cry. I delight in you. (Zephaniah 3:7)

What is the proper response to a love like that? Not to hide our faces, not to cry that we do not deserve it – because of course we don’t – but to turn that delight back to Him.

Delight yourself the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4).

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4).

May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, ‘God is great!’” (Psalm 70:4)

God delights in our delighting in Him. (Check out this article by John Piper if you’re intrigued by that idea). A relationship with God is a dance of delight. He delights in us, so we delight in Him, and He delights in our delighting in Him, and we delight in His delighting in our delight in Him… It’s beautiful. And it’s beautifying.

It’s hard to feel delighted in when you are stuck in addiction. But look out the windows. Disorderland is just a cramped dark room, there are universes of suns outside the door. Even better than that: there is the Son. And He doesn’t just hand you a get-out-of-hell-free card and leave you standing over the scale, He begins to heal you, to grow you, and to increase your capacity for delight.