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Food and loathing

"Food and loathing" Continued...

Ironically, baking helped Natalie: She turned a corner when training as a pastry chef at Le Cordon Bleu in London. In nine months Natalie grew from a high-strung child who threatened to starve herself during fights with her “heartbroken” parents, into a healthy, independent woman who now assembles cakes and mousse shooters for a living. She had always enjoyed baking, but now she can bake a cake and eat it, too.

God works in mysterious ways. After trying to avoid God for a long time, Natalie returned to church because the “aunties and uncles” at church raved about the cakes and cookies she baked for them. During her exams at Le Cordon Bleu, Natalie saw how God led her each step of the way as she stumbled through mistakes while heating sugar syrup and whipping buttercream for an opera cake. In fact, God had been with her all along.

Natalie, who grew up a Christian and whose mother leads the ladies’ ministry in church, said she “knew God was around but I never felt His presence”—not until she started struggling with an eating disorder. 

Oh, there’s one more story: mine. I’ll never forget the weepy hug I shared with my parents as I left my first hospitalization against doctor’s orders. The doctors and psychiatrist told me I would die. My parents and I believed an eating disorder was primarily a spiritual disease that cannot be healed by force-feeding and therapy sessions. God will heal, we believed. 

The day after that discharge, my hope deflated as I realized I couldn’t bring myself to finish a bowl of oatmeal. Each meal from then on became a battle. For six months our family dinners, high in tension, left everyone with indigestion.

Then my worried parents and I drove 10 hours to Northwestern University for my freshman year. I waved goodbye, promising to come back for winter break with an additional 10 pounds. I was home within a month, 10 pounds lighter, hospitalized for the second time and basically kicked out of Northwestern. 

The next year was painful. Desperate to go back to college, I gained more than 30 pounds, but Northwestern denied me re-admission. Thus began my bitterness against God and my parents, fueled by the hatred and disgust I felt for myself. Even though I looked healthier physically, mentally and spiritually I was worse than before. 

Costco bagels sparked one conflagration. I moved out the next day, spent nights sleeping in my car and crashing at my friend’s house, then roomed with a high school friend for three months. During those months, I turned into a hedonistic bulimic. I stayed up until 4 a.m., gorging on piles of fatty and sugary foods until my belly could take in no more, puking my guts out, and repeating the process again until I was half fainting. This unsustainable lifestyle—I passed out twice—pushed me back to anorexia.

Many times I could have died. I was actively destroying my body, stubbornly refusing even to open the Bible because of the tight, confusing mixture of guilt and resentment I felt toward Him. I wanted to hurt myself so much because I loathed everything about myself. 

God used that loathing to spotlight my sin and weakness. Friends, intelligence, and talents—all obliterated by a single mental disability. Nothing to boast about, nothing to contribute: I was a 52-pound college dropout who couldn’t even feed herself or walk uphill without falling.

But I had an Almighty Father who so loved and treasured me that He sent His one and only son, Jesus Christ, to replenish my soul, my mind, and my body. I saw God’s love through my family, my church, my friends. I saw God’s love in someone as pathetic and wretched as me.

It took me a long time to understand what that kind of grace meant—deeply, intimately, personally—to me. I no longer wept about my inability to recover. When I used that newfound identity as a daily perspective on every circumstance and situation in my life, true recovery took place.

Many professionals say you can never recover completely from an eating disorder. Yes, the scars will always remain, but in my experience, God never wastes our tears. Even as my heart still tightens with the painful memories, the overwhelming sensations I feel are thanksgiving and awe. 

Only God can make pottery (albeit still somewhat misshaped) out of a beaten lump of useless clay. Only God can turn an experience as hideous and humiliating as an eating disorder into a testimony that sings of His mercy and love. My parents and I share that testimony. We are all flawed individuals who are part of a beautiful purpose. It is bittersweet, but the bitter makes the sweet so much sweeter.

—Sophia Lee is a USC senior and WORLD intern

Sophia Lee
Sophia Lee

Sophia is a features reporter for WORLD. She graduated from the University of Southern California with degrees in print journalism and East Asian language and culture. She lives in Los Angeles with her cat, Shalom. Follow Sophia on Twitter @SophiaLeeHyun.

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