Finding Faith Through Anorexia Recovery

Woman raising hands in faith

Contributor: Kirsten Haglund, Community Relations Representative for Timberline Knolls and Founder and President of the Kirsten Haglund Foundation

In my recovery from anorexia, the fire of the spiritual battles always raged the hottest. Yes, every mealtime was difficult. Yes, it took day after day of grueling work with a therapist in order to dig up the emotional roots of my illness. Yes, learning to love and appreciate my body was an arduous, rarely linear journey. But it was learning the true meaning of and accepting grace that was by far the greatest challenge.

The world of ballet formed much of my thought life on the road leading to the eating disorder. The rigidity, competition, emotional suppression and ultra-thin body ideal were the perfect storm of factors that contributed to my struggle. However, the roots of anorexia went much deeper. From the time I was a little girl, I always tried my best to please everyone around me; I found that when I performed well, I was rewarded with love.

That was only reinforced in the ballet world, and combined with an unrealistic body ideal. As long as I looked the part, danced beautifully, and never caused any trouble, I was fulfilled. Or so I thought.

Finding a Sense of Value and Worth in Anorexia Recovery

My sense of self-worth and value before and during my eating disorder was based on whether I had done enough or been enough to measure up. I was earning my own salvation through self-control, pushing toward perfection, never letting up, desperate to prove my worth. Then one day, the reality and devastating consequences of my eating disorder caught up with me, and as I sat in the pit of despair physically, emotionally and spiritually, I hit rock bottom.

I realized I couldn’t save myself. Living according to the tenets and commandments of my eating disorder would only lead to death. I wanted to live.

As I started treatment, my mind waged a war – whether I would comply with therapy, vacillating between fear of gaining weight and desire to be healthy and happy again. But I was not able to commit fully to treatment until I got my spiritual life back on track, and that meant admitting failure and admitting imperfection.

A friend recommended a book which talked about the biblical view of femininity and how women specifically relate to God. I devoured it. It led me back to my Bible, which I had not opened in years. I read the Psalms day after day. Psalm 139 became my battle cry during the darkest of nights. I slowly began to realize that I didn’t have to do this alone, and that there was an awesome, loving, merciful God who would crawl into the pit of my brokenness with me and carry me to freedom.

In coming back to my faith, I learned that I could do nothing to earn God’s love and therefore could do nothing to lose it. I was supremely and utterly loved before the creation of the world: period, end of story.

Integrating Faith in the Recovery Journey

At first this was hard to grasp, because the desire to earn and claim as “mine” any reward or praise was so engrained. Learning to truly and humbly accept grace is still a daily challenge. But as soon as I opened the door of my heart to His grace and love, my whole outlook on recovery changed.

Woman praying to recovery from AnorexiaPrayer and quiet time with God became an integral part of my recovery journey, my mealtimes, by therapy sessions and my slip-ups. The iron-clad grip of perfectionism on my mind started to loosen. Who I cared about impressing most began to shift. My relationship with God came before my relationship with food. It was freeing.

I can honestly say that without my faith, I would not be recovered today. I can only face and embrace my flaws, imperfection and humanity now because I realize the God of the universe does not hold me to a standard of perfection. I found faith in my journey to recovery, and thereby, freedom.

It is my sincere prayer and wish that if you are reading this and in the black pit of despair, you will know that you are not alone and that the sweet God of all time, space and history loves you, will not give up on you, and is not afraid of your brokenness. There is nothing any of us can do to earn God’s love and there is nothing we can do to lose it.


Kirsten+Haglund+HeadshotAbout the author: Kirsten Haglund continues to work as an advocate for greater awareness of eating disorders and resources for care. Since she won the crown of Miss America 2008, she has spoken on numerous college campuses, worked with youth and church groups domestically and abroad, lobbied Congress with the Eating Disorders Coalition, and started her own non-profit, the Kirsten Haglund Foundation, to raise funds and assist families financially in seeking treatment for eating disorders. She is also the Community Relations Specialist for Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 11, 2017.
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