Jonah, eating disorders, and technical obedience


As she handed over my bagel, the clerk at Bruegger’s asked me if I was okay. “Are you eating enough? You aren’t starving yourself, are you?”

Thankfully, I can be honest. “No.” I eat. Trust me, I eat. I’ve been there with the starve-binge-purge cycle, and I do not want to return. It’s endless: a whirlpool that sucks you deeper and deeper until you think you’ll drown (and want to drown, just to end the feeling of being drowned).

And when you’re finally spit out—splat!—like Jonah from his fish, you feel relief—never going to Tarshish again!—and yet an uneasy dread, lest you swim too close and get sucked back into those same attitudes, like Jonah moaning in bitterness, post merciful-God-intervention in Ninevah.

I’m healthy now. My weight is stable. But I find myself being hypervigilant whenever I sense that I’m slipping back into that whirlpool of diet-or-die attitudes: tallying calories, deprivation, post-dessert guilt. The triggers are everywhere, though. Our society is obsessed with bodies and food, and completely misses the point of why we have both.

Our bodies were created by God as a means to glorify him and to show us how dependent we are on him for our very lives. After all, without him, we wouldn’t be chewing and swallowing and digesting and getting nutrients from food. And it was a perfectly delightful idea on God’s part to make food delicious, as well as nutritious, and to create the concept of eating meals with other people in community. He didn’t have to, but I think we’d miss so much if food was tasteless and eaten in isolation.

But for people with eating disorders (or body image issues), it’s hard to remember that. It’s easy for me to get sucked into the oh-my-body-is-horrible-and-food-is-the-enemy attitude.

Hanging out with women whining about their weight.

Reading about female bodybuilders’ eating/exercise routines.

Browsing an article about reduction of pore size or fifty ways to cut fifty calories or other such nonsense.

The attitude is so common that it’s hard to avoid completely.

Even something like reading a blog post can trigger memories that I think I’ve dealt with. A while ago, I read a blog post titled something along the lines of “I hate being fat.” It was supposed to be a funny post.

I knew I shouldn’t read it.

I read it.

Bam! Trigger.

For days, I was obsessing over my appearance. I didn’t start starving or binging or purging; no, technically, I was perfectly fine. Normal. But I stared into the mirror, searching out flaws. I got teary-eyed over my pores. I cried to my mother about stretch marks. She gave me a good shake of the shoulders—metaphorically, as we were talking on the phone—and the cells in my brain clunked together and I realized why I was obsessing over my looks.

I’d read a blog post that I knew I shouldn’t read, opening myself up to that world of discontent. Then I became like Jonah again, grumbling in the face of God’s grace, having an attitude of disobedience even while technically obedient. He’s more concerned about a dead vine than the people of Ninevah; I was more concerned about stretch marks from pregnancy than grateful to have a functional, strong body that bore children.

Every time I read that book, I wonder what happened after God talks to Jonah. Does the grumbling prophet repent? Does he realize that God’s mercy to the city of Ninevah is a beautiful thing? Does he realize that he, too, is in need of God’s mercy?

Just as importantly, do I repent of my ingratitude toward God’s mercy in my life? Do I reject technical obedience, fall on God’s grace, and change my attitude?

(We’re in the process of moving to a new house, so I’m not sure when my internet connection there will be up and running. I’ll read and respond to comments as soon as I can!)




7 thoughts on “Jonah, eating disorders, and technical obedience

  1. gratitude gratitude gratitude It’s the only antidote I know to our self loathing. Nice that it rhymes with attitude, eh?


    1. Hey, I don’t think I realized the rhyme connection between gratitude and attitude before (or maybe it’s just that my brain is a little befuddled from the moving shuffle of the past week.) 🙂


  2. Grumbling in the face of God’s grace – what a great way to put it, Laura, and I can tell you that I’ve been a fellow grumble right along with you. Great reminder that we are truly blessed in God’
    s goodness inour lives.


    P.S. Your part about having a body string enough to bear children reminds me of Ellen Painter Dollar’s book No Easy Choice where she writes of her osteogenesis imperfecta and yet being quite strong enough to become a mother of three. (My review is here.) Have you read that one?


  3. Through my own emotional and even spiritual struggles, the compulsions or addictions can be numerous, but the root causes can often be similar. Frustration, resentment, unresolved issues and unforgiveness are just some of the core issues I deal with. And, with due respect and no offense meant because this affects most of us in the affluent West, we often have so much free time to worry about things that many less fortunate than us literally don’t have the time for. Finding peace in those lonely moments of solitude can be a big problem for so many people. I am learning to put it all to God, handing my entire will over to Him.


    1. Hi, Tim–Good to hear from you again! I think you’re right; I know that if I DIDN’T have the leisure time to think about myself all the time (if, for example, I slaved 12+ hours a day for pitiful wages to support my kids and myself), then I’d probably look at my self-obsessed counterpart with disdain (and probably a little bit of amusement, much like I look at certain ultra-rich celebrities and their plastic surgery obsessions.) I know that I’ve been fortunate financially and that not having to work for a living has been a blessing in some ways, because I couldn’t handle the stress; but on the flip side, it gives me too much leisure for self-reflection, which can easily turn to navel-gazing if I’m not careful!


  4. But your sweetness, vulnerability and complete honesty are gifts from God. I know in the UK that free time amongst people who are unemployed, underemployed (which is a severe problem here particularly) and people overqualified like myself who have to accept menial jobs when they have degrees can be very debilitating and people can fall into ruts of all kinds, usually the obvious ones like drinking, taking drugs, developing depression or mental health issues and other negative things. Crime here is less than the US but the same issues exist on a lesser scale. My faith, in good times and bad, brings me stability, some kind of anchor to cling to, even if emotionally I am ‘ten sheets to the wind’ and having had manic depression and still struggling with mood swings it has been and is a bumpy ride!!! But it’s never boring!!! In all seriousness, God has my future in His hands and I hope in Him alone, because everything else is illusion.


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