Everything at Church Seems to Revolve Around Food!

By October 29, 2012

I am feeling very frustrated. I am 24 years old, 5’6″, around ***lbs (I don’t ever weigh myself, only at Dr.’s office). I made Jesus the Lord of my life about 4 years ago. I’ve been in a treatment center and counseling for about 2 years for bulimia/EDNOS. I have come a long way in these 2 years with my eating habits but I still feel like I’m a huge failure. Food still has a strong grip on my life — I basically eat the same food everyday and seem to thrive on consistency. My husband and I recently joined a discipleship ministry and we are very involved in our local church. I know God has called us into this life but everything seems to revolve around food — out to eat after church, snacks at bible studies, spontaneous Starbucks gatherings, inviting new believers over for dinner, people giving us food to say thanks, business luncheons, prayer breakfasts, etc. It is very overwhelming. In my mind, it would be OK to say no or skip these events if they were merely social, but my husband is always saying “this will be a great time to fellowship or learn or witness or encourage another believer,” so I feel obligated to go. I tell myself I should think of others’ needs before my own. There are a few friends who know my past and I feel safe with but most people I’m around have no idea. I can create “safety” in certain situations like bringing my own meal from home or parking myself away from the buffet line. But I hate that every social/ministry occasion in my life is synonymous with an occasion to eat. My husband is super supportive and prayerful when it comes to my disordered eating but sometimes I just don’t think he gets it. He jokes that Jesus loved to eat with his disciples and that food is just a part of fellowship. I don’t want to put a burden on our ministry or be self-absorbed. Where do I draw the line between 1) being active and available in the ministry that God has called me to and 2) being practical and looking out for my own well-being? – Jessica (PS I love your website, it’s very educational and encouraging. God’s children are broken and wounded in different ways and this is truly a tool for physical and spiritual healing.)

Dear Jessica,

You have written such an important letter! Church-goers everywhere are facing the same frustrations that you describe so well. Too often, “fellowship” becomes synonymous with “eating.” Unfortunately, the church in general does not recognize the pervasiveness of eating issues, and—although unintentional—overindulgence is actually promoted at many social and ministry events.

So since we are looking at the big picture at the moment, let me ask you a question. Is there anything you can do at your local church to help change the tide? Without necessarily divulging your personal struggles (although that is up to you), is there a ministry leader or pastor who might be open to discussing how to make church-sponsored gatherings less food-centered? You could refer them to the “What is EDNOS? ” section of this site, which describes and highlights the high incidence of eating issues. When leaders realize the magnitude of the problem, they might begin to understand that instead of drawing people closer together, food is frequently a distraction that can take the focus off of relationships—including the one with God. Not that food should never be served at church events, but instead, done so with greater sensitivity, moderately and in a more health-conscious manner. Changes in your church’s attitudes and environment would go a long way towards helping yourself, as well as countless others.

Realistically, of course, we know that change doesn’t happen overnight, and you need some strategies to help you right now so you can comfortably participate in social and ministry functions. First, I would refer you to the article, “False Beliefs: Overeating.” You are most-likely working through some of this in your counseling sessions; this article identifies some common false beliefs that give food too much importance and power in our lives. Replacing these falsehoods with the truth weakens food’s grip on our lives.

Here are some practical suggestions that people have found helpful in attending gatherings at which a lot of food is available:

  • If you know that desserts or “empty-calorie foods” are being served, decide ahead of time what you will sample in moderation—and savor it when you get there.
  •  If you know that there will be mainly unhealthy choices, have a healthy snack before you go, to curb hunger, and to make it easier for you choose carefully in moderation.
  •  If it’s a meal, go ahead and enjoy yourself, eating enough to satisfy hunger.
  •  If you are contributing food to the event, bring something healthy to balance out the not-so-healthy options.
  • When you are comfortably full, remind yourself that it’s okay to throw away the food that’s left on your plate. It is NOT good stewardship to eat food your body doesn’t need, essentially using it as a garbage pail.
  • Avoid “holding out” or not eating before an event if it’s going to lead to extreme hunger and out-of-control eating. It’s okay to eat before you go and save room for just a little more food.
  • If you aren’t at all hungry, simply tell people the truth and don’t eat the food. If you feel like it, enjoy a soothing cup of tea instead.
  • While at the event, remind yourself to focus on what’s really important—the people, the activities and the fun.

This is some of my perspective, as a nutritionist. I’ve asked Leanne to offer some perspective from a therapist’s viewpoint as well. Thank you so much for writing in!




Dear Jessica:

Please know that your question was so awesome that I had to offer my reactions to you as well. I do not believe you are being self absorbed or overly demanding. I am happy your husband is supportive and I like reading in the e-mail that you have already attempted a couple of your own solutions.

I am in agreement with Ann that you should consider impacting the system. Changing the tide of how or where we do ministry is a positive idea.

There is ample evidence of the growing epidemic of obesity in children and adults. We can provide you the stats alone on persons either (1) attempting to lose unnecessary weight, or (2) struggling with disordered eating in this country alone. I really read your e-mail as being from a person with (1) the personal knowledge of how hard it is to live in balance with food and community and (2) wants to genuinely help others at the same time. Perhaps you have been called to such a work as this: impacting the system as it exists now and helping others think more creatively and “out of the box” about gatherings…