I know I've started multiple posts this way, but here we go again! I'm thrilled to have this interview with Kristen Gilles, a talented musician and passionate follower of Christ. I stumbled upon Kristen's post "Eating Disorders and the Power of Christ" on the Gospel Coalition blog early in August of this year and reached out to her about this series. I didn't think she would respond, much less accept (which she did immediately, by the way)! Her heart for the Lord and desire to make His name great brings me so much joy. I pray that this interview brings great encouragement, as it did for me.
Name: Kristen Gilles
Where do you live? New Albany, IN (in the Louisville, KY metro area)
Occupation: Full-time legal administrative assistant at a large law firm in Louisville, KY.
1: What are your earliest negative memories of food? Did any event trigger or develop them?
I remember always enjoying eating as a child, but it wasn’t until my brother and other neighborhood boys began making fun of my weight when I was a preteen (I was an average size for my age) that I started to become self-conscious about my body image and as a result I began to have an unhealthy relationship with food (viewing it as an enemy to overcome instead of something good to enjoy as a gift from God).
My unhealthy relationship with food continued to negatively progress as I became a teenager and grew increasingly aware of all the other girls my age and their pretty figures and of how unnoticed I was by all the boys (because I didn’t look like all the other girls).
2: When you tried to "manage" your sin with food, what did you do? Where did you seek comfort or control?
As a teenager I did a lot of after-dinner binge-eating (mostly sweets). I would also restrict myself from eating breakfast and lunch in order to negate the extra calories I ate the night before. I’m sure I was also using all of the sports I participated in as an excuse to eat more than I needed (comforting myself with food).
After high school, as a full-time college student working three part-time jobs, I managed to become an over-exerciser. I would pound myself at the gym 4-5 times a week since I was no longer participating in organized sports. This was definitely a means of trying to control my sin (I was still restricting calories during the day and binge-eating late at night). I had no idea then that my sin was really controlling me.
At some point I began using laxatives to purge after the binges, but I couldn’t stomach that for long. Ironically, I could stomach vomiting as a purging means and began doing in my mid-20’s. This quickly became the darkest time of my life and battle with bulimia. God in His mercy kept me from binging and purging multiple times a day. Most of my struggle looked like me white-knuckling my way around food all day every day, obsessing about getting enough exercise (burning enough calories) and then releasing all my angst about everything in a few late-night binge/purge cycles each week.
I did my best to hide this behavior from everyone. I told myself it was a sickness that would be healed if my circumstances were healed. At the same time, I knew it couldn’t be pleasing to God because of how it was harming me, someone He made in His image. As a Christian, I was very self-condemning and self-loathing, thinking this expression of my guilt would appease God. But I was missing the point big time. I was trying to save myself and clean myself up before coming to God instead of confessing my sin and my need for God to forgive and heal me. During this dark time, God led me to a group of Christian women who were also battling eating disorders and like me, were desperate for God to deliver them. We started meeting weekly and working together through some Gospel-based materials produced by Kim Hemsley and a ministry called New ID (http://newid.org/). This was the first time that I confessed my problem, my sin, to others. And it was the first time that I heard the Gospel speaking directly to my pain, my fears, my sin and unbelief. God sent His Word to heal and deliver me!
3: How has the church affected your attempts to "put to death the desires of the flesh" (Romans 8:13)?
Gathering with the church and proclaiming the Gospel together and hearing it proclaimed by each member is hugely helpful for every believer attempting to put to death the desires of the flesh. We need to be reminded every day (many times a day, even!) that God has broken sin’s compulsive power over us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! “God destroyed sin’s control over us by giving His Son as the sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the requirements of the law would be fully accomplished for those of us who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4) It’s vital to Christian living to proclaim and practice the Gospel together in the community of the gathered and scattered Church (gathering corporately and also meeting in scattered, smaller communities each week).
4: Have you found confession to other believers difficult? How have they typically responded to your struggles with food?
Confessing any sin to other believers can be difficult when we are ruled by a desire to be perceived as perfect (this is self-righteousness) instead of walking in humble dependence upon Christ’s perfect righteousness. With that said, I did struggle with confessing my eating disorder sins to other believers as long as I was struggling to maintain a perfect façade. Confession became much easier for me once I realized, by God’s grace, the true offensiveness of my self-righteousness and other imperfections and that ONLY Christ was perfect and could make me perfect through His own righteousness. I also was encouraged by God’s promise to forgive and cleanse us when we confess our sins to Him (I John 1:9) and to heal us when we confess our sins to other believers and pray for each other to be healed (James 5:16).
Many times when I’ve confessed these food struggles with other believers, they have responded graciously by proclaiming the Gospel of God’s love and forgiveness and reminding me of the power of Christ in me whereby I can put aside the deeds of darkness that once ruled me. Other times, they respond by confessing their own food struggles and we take the opportunity to pray for each other to be healed. And then there are times when they just don’t get it. They may even downplay the sin I’ve confessed (saying it’s not sin and that everyone struggles with it to some degree).
5: How has God used this weakness in your heart to grow you in maturity? ("And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." - Romans 8:28)
God has graciously used my perversion of food (using it to comfort and satisfy longings that only God can satisfy) to teach me how desperately wicked I am and how great is His salvation for sinners like me. He has also taught me to appreciate food as a good gift from my Creator! He has taught me to enjoy it in worship of His name.
God has mercifully used my sinful self-destructing body image disorder to make my heart long to see what HE sees when He looks at me, His creation. And He has brought me to a mature place of eagerly looking forward with all of creation to that future day when we share in glorious freedom from death and decay. I am confident that God will release our bodies from sin and suffering and He will give us our full rights as His adopted children, including the new bodies He has promised us! (Rom. 8:21, 23; I Cor. 15)
God has redeemed my drive for perfection to show me that I can never save myself or make myself perfect, no matter how hard I try. He has revealed to me and in me the wonder of Christ’s righteousness imputed to me! Although my sins outnumber the hairs on my head and I deserve to die because of my offensiveness to the Holy One, God gave Himself to die for my sins. He extended forgiveness to me before I ever acknowledged my sins to Him! How great is His lovingkindness toward sinners! In this He has taught me to fear Him because although He has the right to judge and condemn me, He has chosen instead to forgive me. If He counted all my sins I could never stand before Him! But with Him there is forgiveness and great redemption! He Himself will redeem me from all my sins (Psalm 130). Therefore He is to be feared and honored above all others!
6: What aspect of eating has historically been the biggest hurdle for you? Have you found a way to guard against it (Proverbs 4:23)?
Eating to comfort or drown my sorrows, particularly when I’m alone in my house and feeling overwhelmed by my heartache, has continued to be a big hurdle for me. There are several ways I’ve learned to guard against this treacherous situation. One way is to immediately, upon experiencing temptation to sin, pour out my heart to God who is my refuge (Ps. 62:8). Sometimes I do this by sitting at my piano and pouring my heart out in prayerful songs. Or I’ll go outside and walk and pray. Or I’ll retreat to my bedroom (which is far away from the kitchen) with my Bible. Other times I’ll reach out to a sister and ask for prayer as I confess my temptation to sin. I always hear God’s Spirit counseling me to draw near to Him in my times of need. He is always lovingly calling me to life. And even when I fail and sin (and I still do), I hear Him still calling me back to life in Christ. I am learning to quickly acknowledge my fears, insecurities and unbelief while retreating to the shelter of the Almighty’s wings where I find refuge, comfort and strength.
7: What one observation would you share with other believers with respect to looking out for their weaker sisters in this area (Romans 14:21)?
Be available as an outlet of accountability to your sisters who are struggling with sin in eating and body image disorders. Be diligent to pray for them and share the Gospel with them. Listen to them with the discernment of God’s Spirit inside you. He knows what they’re struggling to believe and what truth they need to hear, and He will counsel you in loving and serving them well. If they ask you to hold them accountable, be willing to do that for them. But make sure you understand from them what measures of accountability they are seeking from you. Don’t overburden them by constantly monitoring what they eat or say in your presence. And always point them to Jesus, whose sacrifice on their behalf and yours is entirely sufficient to save, deliver, heal and restore them.
8: What practical advice would you give to another believer struggling with an eating disorder?
Be encouraged that you are not the only one wrestling with your sinful nature in this regard. And be encouraged that you can be delivered and healed by the power of Christ who has defeated the power of sin, Satan and death! Be encouraged that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness and His kindness leads you to repentance. He longs to heal you and restore you. Be encouraged that God is at work redeeming your life from the pit! He who began His good work in you will be faithful to complete it. He will present you faultless before His throne. He is making everything new, and that includes you. As you draw near to God, be honest with yourself and with Him: call sin what it is in confessing it to God, and know that He, in Christ, has already forgiven you and made provision by His Spirit in you to live free from the compulsive power of sin. Know the Gospel: read it, listen to it, proclaim it. Let the liberating, illuminating, satisfying truth of God’s Word saturate your desperately thirsty, hungry soul.
Seek help and accountability from other mature believers who have experienced freedom and healing from slavery to food and body image. Find some sort of Redemption Group at your church or a local church where you can openly share your struggles with other struggling believers and together you can pursue a life of Gospel freedom under the direction of God’s Word by the power of Christ’s Spirit. You may also need to meet with a nutritionist and other medical professionals who can counsel you in taking care of your body (nourishing it back to health).
Kristen is a worship leader at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky. She is married to Sojourn communications director Bobby Gilles. Together they write about worship and songwriting at mysonginthenight.com.