30 Oct 2023

Jesus and ED: How my crisis of faith led to an eating disorder


“Do you believe this? Like really? Deep down… Darren, do you actually believe this?”

CW: This blog mentions suicide. For support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

There I was sitting in a seminar in the early months of my theological degree. It wasn’t the first time I had asked this question. Most of those who subscribe or have subscribed to a religion will recognise it. Yet something felt different about the question this time.

There was a prevailing sense of doubt that felt somehow foreign. I couldn’t answer the question. I couldn’t satisfy that voice in my head that kept on asking, “Do you believe this?”

Let me provide a little context to my situation. I grew up in Northern Ireland in the late 1990s. I lived in a small town that had a protestant church on every corner. My family were Christian as were most of my school teachers. It never really occurred to me that there would be an alternative world view or religious system of thought.

From a very young age I was taught the fundamental pillars of Christianity and my need to be saved by Jesus for my sinful nature and devote the rest of my life to his service.

I duly subscribed to this and as I grew older became more and more certain of the validity of my beliefs. I appeared to have a natural gift for public speaking and would regularly preach in church services, youth groups and on university campuses.

At the age of 19 I believed that God was calling me to leave my chosen university course and began theological training to enter Christian ministry.

Coincidentally (or so I thought), several months prior to beginning theological college I began to alter my relationship with food.

I wasn’t subscribing to a particular diet plan but was simply becoming a little more conscious of what I was eating. I considered this to be a positive change. Up until then I had also been an active young man who just ate whatever I wanted. I didn’t go to the gym or care particularly about body image. So surely swapping potato chips for fruit and vegetables every now again would be ok right?

For the purpose of this blog, ED refers to my experience with anorexia and bulimia. I have chosen to personify this and it helps to illustrate the faith-like function it had in my life. ED took over from Jesus.

It was around this time that these two forces collided and my life began to spin out of control. I began to pour more and more energy into losing weight. I began to deprive myself of food. Each day had to be more restrictive than the day before. I would use any small piece of remaining energy to exercise.

Every calorie was a reward that had to be earned. I vividly remember waking up in my dorm room in the middle of the night and demanding that I excessively perform press and sit ups before I would be “allowed” to return to sleep. I was exhausted when it came to writing essays or practising my Greek vocabulary.

One of the most attractive things for me about Christianity was the sense of purpose I garnered from it. It was my raison d’etre, my why. Christianity presents every single action, thought and word as an opportunity to reflect the glory of God. It gives meaning to those things that would seem otherwise insignificant.

Losing my faith in Jesus led me to feel utterly purposeless. That’s where ED offered some solace.

The purposes of each day became defined by ED. These could include – “Eat less than yesterday,” “Burn x calories using exercise” or “Try not to purge today.” This sense of purpose ordered and structured my days especially when I was becoming increasingly depressed and seeing less and less reasons to live. “But at least I’m losing weight”, I remember telling myself, as if that lessened the power of the suicidal thoughts.

My faith in Jesus was everything to me and I could not have imagined a life where it was not present. There was significant pain in ‘losing Jesus’ and this was a fundamental reason why ED became the dominant force in my life for so long. He ticked many of the boxes that a conventional faith or religion would and in many ways he was even more difficult to divorce.

ED became an escape. As I wrestled with my faith and where that left my identity, ED stepped into the void.

By channeling all my mind energy into succeeding at losing weight I had no space left to confront the questions about faith.

If I did begin to question faith I would become so overwhelmed and depressive that ED would become more prevalent. It was an escape but an incredibly harmful one.

I began to lose more and more weight and was going through binge/purge cycles multiple times a day. This went on for years. There were failed relationships, loss of friendships, missed opportunities in education and almost total isolation.

It was only when I began to truly understand my eating disorder and its function that I could safely examine my relationship with faith. But I had to seek help first.

Eating disorder therapy helped to challenge my now toxic relationship with food and develop strategies to overcome it. These included eating diaries as directed by a dietician which helped re-teach me what normative eating looked like. I also engaged in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) which helped to challenge some of the destructive thoughts patterns.

Fast forward to the present day and it’s ten years since ED entered into my life. As anyone who has/is recovering from the grip of an eating disorder will attest, the journey is certainly not linear.

There are many ups and downs, gains and setbacks. For me I consider “recovery” something I have to choose and sometimes fight for daily. ED has not and may never completely disappear. And as for Jesus? The jury’s still out on that one.

Darren is originally from Ireland and works in Mental Health and Disability. He enjoys keeping an active lifestyle and has a self – confessed weakness for coffee. Several years ago, he started his own blog with the aim of reducing stigma surrounding mental health and empowering everyday people to share their stories.

Get Support

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or body image concern, Talking Helps. Our National Helpline counsellors are here for you 7 days a week, 8am-midnight (AEDT). Call 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673), chat online or email support@butterfly.org.au 

In a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or 000 in an emergency.

To find qualified eating disorder practitioners, support and treatment closest to your area, search Butterfly’s Referral Database. 

You don’t have to face your journey alone. To access support groups for eating disorders – for people wanting extra support for their own recovery or to connect with other carers – click here.

Related tags: bulimia Bulimia Nervosa Eating Disorder eating disorders and males eating disorders and men faith loss of control male male eating disorder Recovery recovery from bulimia religion religion and eating disorders