Are you or someone you love struggling with an eating disorder? Do you obsess over your food intake for the sake of controlling how your body looks? Do you know that Jesus is the only lasting solution to your problems? Then, this honest and soul searching interview with my good friend Stephanie Frank will encourage you along your journey!
I have worked next to Steph for the past few years and I never would have guessed she had weathered an eating disorder as a teenager, nor would I have assumed she would fall back into old habits now as a woman in her early twenties.
Fiery, compassionate and driven are three words I would use to describe my beautiful friend.
She is always punctual for her shift, and bounces in with her naturally red hair, femininely styled, smiling and usually holding a plate of yummy homemade treats to share with the office. Stephanie had an eating disorder in her early teen years and went into treatment for it. Now, at twenty-two years old, a devout Christian studying Kinesiology at the University of North Texas, she finds herself battling many of the same temptations she faced when she was younger–obsessive control over her eating and exercise habits, believing lies about where her worth comes from and as she would put it, “struggling to have Christ as the center of her life.” I am deeply touched by her vulnerability and insight.
Q: When did you first start thinking negatively about your body?
S: “I was 11 when I started to have thoughts. I remember I was in Junior High and I was reading a book series, just a fun fictional Christian-based young girl series. I kept reading phrases like, ‘As she ran, her long braids flipped over her sharp shoulder blades…” and, “Sadie ran faster than anyone in her town…” and, “the wind pressed her dress against her thin frame…” Things of that nature. And I began to wonder… is that me? Are my shoulder blades sharp and bony? Is my frame thin? I want to be the faster person around too! It’s dumb, I know, and of course there were other factors…but I distinctly remember thinking those thoughts a lot. The really bad years were 12-14. I was TERRIFIED of hitting 100 pounds. The day I hit 101 I decided to cut out all snacks and my portions went to kid-sized. I believe I was around 5’6″ at this point. Comparison was and still is a huge downfall of mine. And that’s definitely where things started to go downhill. I was very conscious of what I was eating and I had to be the one eating the smallest amount of food. I would be so hungry, but refused to let myself get more because nobody else was getting more, so I didn’t deserve to. I obviously knew it was a problem, and my parents saw it to, everyone saw it actually because I started to lose weight and just not eat.”
Q: How would you describe your relationship with Christ throughout your journey?
S: “At first, my conscience really bothered me and I did feel very guilty when I lied and deceived my parents about food and exercise, but over time I became calloused. I do believe I was a Christian through this, but I definitely turned away from the truth that I knew and was living in my sin. I knocked [Christ] off the pedestal and I myself became my idol. I thought I knew what was best for me and my life. I was not trusting in God, I was trusting in me and that will never work. It was when I hit rock bottom and had no one else to turn to, all alone in a different state in treatment for my eating disorder with a tube stuck down my throat when I finally let Christ have the reins on my life again. I finally realized I was going to die unless I let Him have control. I would definitely say my relationship with Christ has grown stronger and deeper throughout this and is continuing to grow as I fight the battle with my flesh and sinful desires. I do struggle every day, but not as one with no hope. I have hope! I know that as a child of God, I can rest in His peace and those negative thoughts that sometimes filter into my mind–His strength is the only thing that is strong enough to conquer them.”
Q: What would freedom look like for you?
S: “Not being too food conscious! Because of years and years of struggling [with disordered eating] and my life revolving around food, I basically have every nutrition label memorized and know WAY TOO MUCH about food and its contents. Complete freedom for me would [include] not caring at all about calories or having to always pick the healthiest option, but getting what I truly desire and crave in the moment. Freedom would also be never again having those thoughts of “you look ugly,” “if you eat that, you will gain weight,” “being fat is the worst thing in the world,” “your beauty is defined by your body,” and other things like that–lies that I have let crawl back in. Freedom [is] never being tempted to skip meals or restrict food because I feel guilty about what I ate earlier or trying to compensate for a big meal that I will eat later. Still working on all that, but I hope to get there soon!”
Q: How would you encourage another woman struggling with an eating disorder?
S: “I would tell her, “Life is soooo much more than food, so stop wasting time obsessing over it, because it will only bring you heartbreak and pain, I promise. No matter what [lies you hear] God created you in his image and he loves you.” I would also tell her that, “I know it seems like there is no hope for recovery, and you feel like you will be ruled by food for your entire life, and that you don’t even know what normal is anymore…but I promise, it IS possible. Once you start feeding your body, amazing things happen! You don’t think about food every second of the day because you are nourishing your body properly. You start thinking about others and [you realize] there is more to life than what you eat and that you can actually show love to others! You can enjoy life once again and have the energy to live!! It’s a beautiful thing! And yes, recovering is HARD. You may have great days and you will most certainly have horrible days, but you have to keep going. And little by little, with Christ’s help, it gets easier.” I live my life daily to glorify God, not me, and when you have that perspective life becomes so much more than food. My life is not my own, I [now] live for Christ my Savior.”
Q: How would you advise us to interact with those struggling with an eating disorder?
S: “Three things come to mind. 1. Support/Accountability. Always be encouraging, even when you don’t understand or can’t relate exactly to what they are going through. Instead of rolling your eyes and saying, “I can’t believe you’re still struggling with this,” just give them a hug. Reinforce encouraging scripture. Don’t enable them by pretending to not notice [destructive behaviors.] That makes us feel more empowered. Instead, keep them accountable with simple, casual questions like, “hey did you get to eat a snack?” Or “how was breakfast this morning?” If they are in absolute denial and have no desire to recover, you should seek [professional] help. 2. Avoid Triggers. Do not talk about (in regards to yourself) going on a diet or trying to lose weight. Don’t mention that you look fat or what a great workout you had. 3. Pray. Pray for them. Pray with them. [Ask the Lord to send his Holy Spirit to speak truth and to heal.]”
In addition to a deep-knitted family and church community, Stephanie relied heavily on Scripture as her number one resource that helped her through her eating disorder, she especially benefited from 1 Corinthians 10 and Romans 6.
I want to thank my beautiful friend Stephanie for her willingness to openly share with us today what God has taught her through her struggles. She sees that God has allowed these temptations in her life for the purpose of sharing her story and helping others who are enduring the same kind of temptations. You can follow more of Stephanie’s ministry at her Instagram: eat.grow.live1995 where she documents her recovery from a biblical perspective with fun recipes and encouraging words!
**Do you have an eating disorder? Please seek help. Here are some places to start.
Allyss Flores is on the brink of 30 and enjoys woodworking and the outdoors with her husband and two small kids. She has always loved to read but has recently found a love for writing that would have been nice to have in college! An introvert and encourager by nature, she feels most alive during deep conversations over great or not-so-great coffee. She is very grateful for the opportunity to share her experience with God’s grace, as it has had a profound effect on her own life. Read Allyss’s posts here.