59324

Ask a Latter-day Saint therapist: Can I overcome my eating disorder through faith alone?

Editor's Note: The views, information, or opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author. Readers should consider each unique situation. This content is not meant to be a substitute for individual, professional advice.

For daily gospel-based relationship insights, join Jonathan’s Facebook group. To submit a question for Jonathan, click here.

Q: I have an eating disorder, and I have come very far in building myself spiritually. I am in a positive place with my faith in my Lord! Is it possible for me to overcome my eating disorder by faith alone or do I need to see a therapist?

A: Thank you so much for reaching out to me on this. For many, struggling with an eating disorder is no small thing to overcome or even to manage. I will endeavor to give you my educated opinion as a professional counselor and as a believer in Jesus Christ. 

I believe, and have experienced, the truth of the prophet’s words that “it is by faith that miracles are wrought” (see Moroni 7:37). I know that God has power to heal you. He can remove your burdens. However, as mortality is about testing, it is more likely He will lighten them or give you strength to carry them, in accordance with your faith. 

I can’t speak as to whether you need to see a therapist. I do know that part of exercising faith is in taking advantage of the means the Lord has provided for us to endure and overcome our trials. 

Perhaps you’ve heard the old story about a sailor whose ship springs a leak and sinks. Clinging onto a piece of driftwood, he cries out to God to help him. After some time, another sailboat comes by. “Climb aboard,” they call out. “No thanks,” he replies. “God will save me.” A cruise ship spots him. “Let us help you,” they offer. “It’s alright,” he responds. “The Lord will rescue me.” Finally, a rescue helicopter drops him the ladder. “I’m good,” he calls out, “I’m waiting on God.” The man drowns. Standing before the Lord he asks, “Why didn’t you save me?” to which comes the reply, “I sent a sailboat, a cruise ship, and a helicopter!”

 You may also like: Eating Disorders: Not Just About Food

I’m not telling you that you need therapy. I’m saying not to be closed to it, or to working with a nutritionist, or to any other means to help you navigate what can be a complex issue. Many find that prayer, fasting, scripture study, and willpower aren’t enough to get them over the hill. It’s not because their faith was insufficient, nor is it because the Lord can’t heal them, but rather because He has revealed truth and knowledge through the sciences that can be of great benefit in your efforts. 

If you’re seeking wisdom specific to overcoming an eating disorder, in the words of prophets and apostles, you may not find it. President M. Russell Ballard offered this wise counsel: 

“My calling and life experiences allow me to respond to certain types of questions. There are other types of questions that require an expert in a specific subject matter. This is exactly what I do when I need an answer to such questions: I seek help from others, including those with degrees and expertise in such fields. I worry sometimes that members expect too much from Church leaders and teachers, expecting them to be experts in subjects well beyond their duties and responsibilities. The Lord called the apostles and prophets to invite others to come unto Christ . . . If you have a question that requires an expert, please take the time to find a thoughtful and qualified expert to help you. There are many . . . who have the degrees and expertise to respond and give some insight to most of these types of questions” (“Questions and Answers,” BYU Devotional, November 14, 2017).

It is certainly possible for you to overcome an eating disorder through faith alone, “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). But—and this is crucial—if simply exercising faith doesn’t work, it is not a failure on your part or His. We have to exercise faith in accordance with God’s will, and that usually means laboring with our might, studying things out, using the resources He has provided, and giving others the chance to serve us. My experience is that you will likely need added professional support. How wonderful that the Lord has made that possible. 

God bless you. I hope this helps.

Jonwe

Jonathan Decker, LMFT, Contributor

Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical director of Your Family Expert. He offers online relationship courses to people anywhere, as well as face-to-face and online therapy to persons in several states. Jonathan has presented at Brigham Young University Education Week and at regional conferences in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. He is married with five children. Contact him here and join his Facebook group for daily gospel-based relationship tips. 

Comments and feedback can be sent to feedback@ldsliving.com