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The Spiritual Aspects of Disordered Eating by Helen Gill

Posted: May 06, 2015 | Author: Fr. Leo

This week, we'd like to feature an article written by Helen Gill which speaks to the powerful effects of incorporating God into your eating habits. Let us know your thoughts as we want to open this discussion to more of you and feature your own posts on here, especially when they will be helpful to families and individuals looking to be fed, body, mind and soul.


Teaching the parishoners and families at parish mission in Maryland.


The Spiritual Aspects of Disordered Eating

There is currently a huge epidemic of disordered eating here in the United States. Whilst many of us are focused on eating good, healthy food and sharing hearty meals around the dinner table with friends and family, many more take their interest in clean eating too far, and quickly find they develop an eating disorder of some kind; Up to 24 million people of all ages and genders currently suffer from an eating disorder in the United States. This includes anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorders. Eating disorders are complicated to treat because effectively they are psychological disorders that manifest themselves in physical ways. When you have addictive problems with substances such as alcohol or illegal drug it is essential to the process of rehabilitation that you give up the substance for good: alcoholics are famously unable to have ‘just one drink’. However we need food for sustenance: it is impossible to simply stop eating or stop thinking about food. We need it to live; this complicates the process of treating eating disorders and is one of the main reasons that so many different threads are involved in helping sufferers to control the disorder.

Including Religion in Disordered Eating Treatment Plans

When treating eating disorders, many old fashioned approaches simply didn’t consider the spiritual aspects of the disorder. However, it has been asserted that religious and spiritual belief is a powerful force in helping to reduce the symptoms of eating disorders [2]. Eating disorders are serious illnesses and they should be taken seriously: without treatment, 20% of all sufferers will die. Even with treatment and medical intervention, only 60% of people suffering from an eating disorder will recover. [3] Caring for yourself and feeling connected to God or another higher being can help to reduce eating disordered symptoms and minimize the need to control what you eat so obsessively and restrictively. Research has found that those patients preventing with eating disorders who increased their spiritual well-whilst they were undergoing treatment for their condition were found to have much healthier attitudes toward eating, improved body image and increased body confidence, an improvement in their psychological symptoms, and even less interpersonal conflict which is key in preventing someone who had an eating disorder from getting well. [3] Spirituality is a positive and important force in helping to treat eating disorders: by releasing some of the control that they feel they must exert over food to a power higher and greater than themselves, individuals suffering from eating disorders can quickly free much of their focus and effort and direct it towards getting well rather than towards the negative thoughts and feelings they have about their bodies or the foods that they eat.  

Correcting Incorrect Assumptions

It has been incorrectly asserted that religious fasting can lead to anorexia, however there is no empirical evidence to support that assertion. The pattern of fasting can be similar to the binge and purge cycle that bulimics demonstrate [4] but it is unlikely that simply refraining from eating or restricting your diet slightly on certain feast days would cause anyone who wasn’t already under a certain amount of psychological strain from suffering an eating disorder. Whilst it is true that anyone who has suffered from an eating disorder in the past might be wise to refrain from religious fasting for the sake of their own health and wellbeing, simply choosing to fast will not cause you to develop an eating disorder. [5]

If you are sadly in the grips of an eating disorder then approaching your treatment with spirituality and with the knowledge that God will help you through these trials will see you succeed in overcoming your illness. Food is not the enemy. In fact, good food is good for the soul.

Additional Reading

[1] “Eating disorder statistics”, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders,

[2] “Eating disorders and religious/spiritual beliefs”, Professional counselling digest,

[3] “Statistics: how many people have eating disorders?”, Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders ,

[4] “Atheistic inpatient treatment approach for eating disorder patients: A case report”, American Psychological Association,

[5] “Find Inpatient Bulimia Rehab Programs in Florida”, Bulimia,

[6] “A theology of eating disorders”, The Theology Network,



Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, you know all of your children intimately. You know me and each of my crosses. You have compassion on those of us who suffer with an eating disorder, and You give us Your grace to help us through our daily sufferings. Your Son Jesus became incarnate so that we would have a high priest who is 'able to empathize with our weaknesses,' and give us strength, hope and healing. Lord, we trust in You, and know you are present with each of us here and now, helping us to overcome our illnesses and suffering. We rely on your unfailing love to patiently endure them, and cling to the Cross for strength. Amen.