“This is my body, broken for you,” Jesus says to us in the central mystery of our faith. “Take and eat.” Eating is an inherently good activity, a channel of God’s goodness.
But in recent decades, this well has been poisoned for huge numbers of people. Anorexia, rare until the 1970s, today affects an estimated 1.5 million people in the United States. Perhaps twice that number have or are recovering from bulimia, a cycle of binge eating and purging (through vomiting or laxatives); millions more have binge eating alone. Up to one in five people with anorexia die from it—the highest death rate of any psychiatric illness. Eating disorders devastate the body, eroding teeth and bones, and stopping kidneys and hearts.
Christians certainly are not immune from eating disorders (they were “everywhere” at evangelical Wheaton College, one alum in recovery reports). But when was the last time you heard eating disorders mentioned in church? The body of Christ has a vocation to speak truth about the deadly idols of this present age, but instead we’ve kept a deafening silence.
Worse, underneath that silence are rubrics that reinforce rather than unravel the problems. You’re damned if you diet (vanity!) and damned if you don’t (gluttony!). Desire (for food or anything else) is blamed on the body, and both are lumped together as potential causes of sin. Old-fashioned sexism or newer libertarianism both give a pass to the hypersexualization and commodification of women.