We weren’t close friends, and I can’t even remember how the topic arose, but the first time I admitted aloud that I might have a touch of an eating disorder, it was to a slightly older boy from my church youth group. He, in turn, confessed his own disordered desire, the opposite of mine: I fasted and dieted my way to anemia and amenorrhea; he overate his way to obesity. It felt good, initially, to acknowledge aloud that I might have a problem, but I soon resented his raised eyebrow and knowing look when, at a church gathering, he spied me eating only salad and drinking only Diet Coke.
If my problem was worrisome, surely, I thought, it wasn’t as bad as his. Gluttony was condemned in the Bible, I reasoned. But my self-imposed semi-starvation could be construed as discipline—something I thought the Lord looked upon rather kindly.
When we speak or hear of disorders involving eating and body image, we tend to think first of women and girls. Perhaps this reflects Western culture’s traditional dichotomy between flesh and spirit, which has typically associated men with spirit (ideas, the life of the mind, philosophy, and reason) and women with the world of flesh and matter (breast milk and blood, linked to the cycles of the moon).
This divide, of course, has more to do with the legacy of Greek philosophy than a biblical understanding of human nature. Christ himself offers body and blood as a sacrifice and continual feast to men and women alike. Orthodox Christians believe in a real incarnation and a bodily resurrection; Jesus’ resurrection body bears scars and requires food, just as ours do.
Christians have not always been eager to embrace the goodness of human bodies, seeing appetites ...1