Gospel for the Healthy

‘God so loved the world that whoever has their life together should not perish but have eternal life’.

Ridiculous, huh? And yet…how often is this exactly what we practice?

As a church, our mission is to care for the broken and to point them to Christ. But what areas do we designate as ‘off limits?’  How, for example, do we tackle the issue of eating disorders? Do we even try?

Yes, medical care is important.  But what about emotional, spiritual, mental support? It’s not just those fighting the disorder who need help.  Families and friends are often isolated and stretched beyond breaking. 

Why it matters: 

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness

  • A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that 5 – 10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease; 18-20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years and only 30 – 40% ever fully recover
  • The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15 – 24 years old.
  • 20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide and heart problems


Here’s why the church needs to help:

  • Only 1 in 10 people with eating disorders receive treatment
  • About 80% of the girls/women who have accessed care for their eating disorders do not get the intensity of treatment they need to stay in recovery – they are often sent home weeks earlier than the recommended stay
  •  The average cost for basic 12 week  NHS anorexia treatment is nearly £25,000.  It is estimated that individuals with eating disorders need anywhere from 3 – 6 months of inpatient care. Health insurance companies for several reasons do not typically cover the cost of treating eating disorders . Waiting lists are enormous, but to go private can cost twice as much.


Not an issue for your young people?

  • Anorexia is the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents
  • 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25
  • 50% of girls between the ages of 11 and 13 see themselves as overweight
  • 80% of 13-year-olds have attempted to lose weight


This might be just my experience, but in some thirty years of church involvement, I’ve listened to a lot of talks on inner beauty.  Been to countless ‘Colour Me Beautiful’ evenings.  Studied godly womanhood till it’s coming out of my eyes.  These are all good things. 

But in all this time, I’ve yet to hear anyone speaking out about eating disorders. About how the church can help.  About what the gospel says to those who feel trapped in their own bodies. Don’t mishear me. I’m not church – bashing – the opposite.  One of the biggest factors in my recovery was my experience of gospel community. Not the NHS.  Not the self-help books. Not the experts.

Hopefully this is already on your church agenda.  But if not, maybe it’s an area that’s worth considering.

2 thoughts on “Gospel for the Healthy

  1. I wondered if you (or any others who are reading this) know of or have been involved in a church-based (or Christian) ED support group and what the experience has been like – positive? negative? helpful or not? I’m sure there are many in our churches who struggle alone.

  2. Hi Debs

    Great to hear from you. I’m involved with an organisation called The Big House, based in Ireland, which deals with a range of issues to do with identity (including eating disorders). We’re running a series of training nights on eating disorders for church leaders early next year and a residential conference for teenage girls in March, (all in Northern Ireland). See http://www.thebighouse.org.uk.

    In terms of my own experience, I went to a support group for people struggling with eating disorders that was run from the prayer centre in Eastbourne. It was pretty small and informal – run by a Christian family whose daughter had recovered from anorexia. It was good to see someone who had come through the other side, but there was no structure as such and sometimes it was just me, so I only went for a few weeks, (though I’ve stayed in contact with the girl who helped run it). I found it by googling support groups in my local area – but there wasn’t a great deal else available.

    Glen and I were thinking about putting on a conference or training day in the UK on this area, but I’m not sure if others would find it useful or want to come. I know of friends who have suggested putting on events at their church but been knocked back because it was too sensitive to address – which seems terrible, but that’s based on anecdotal evidence, so hopefully it isn’t the case on a wider scale.

    In my view, there’s definitely a need for more support, not just for those with the disorder (who may not want help), but their loved ones. The NHS waiting lists are very long and treatment varies considerably from place to place.

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