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my story: finding balance.

Many of you have requested to hear my story recently, and I recognize that a story of healing can provide hope for those of you who find yourselves in the same situations I’ve found myself in. Below is my story of disordered eating and self-hatred, as well as freedom and God’s faithfulness. I hope it encourages you and reminds you of the good, faithful love of God even in the darkest of times.

My high school experience was different from many. I was always very confident growing up, and I never struggled with my body image as many girls do–even through high school. I was on the cheerleading squad for all four years. As one of the more muscular fliers on the squad, I always viewed my strength as a positive, rather than wishing I were thinner. My strong legs helped me in sports, and my strong back and stomach made gymnastics easy for me.

Much to my surprise, moving away to go to college at Pepperdine totally rocked my world. Being at Pepperdine made me feel like I needed to be smart AND thin AND in fashion AND overcommitted in order to be successful, and I started to second-guess that my gymnast physique and natural looks were going to take me far. I started to wear more makeup than I ever had, and I even found myself wearing high heels to class and looking in the mirror more than ever before. Even when I went home for spring break, my friends called me out, saying, “Natalie, stop asking how you look. You look FINE!”

After my first year, I moved back home to live with my parents in Massachusetts for the summer. And it was there in Massachusetts—a place I always thought was my safe haven and a place I call home—that a series of events ultimately led to a downward battle with anorexia.

In response to my feelings of inadequacy from being at Pepperdine for a year, I started working out more and vowed to eat more fruits and vegetables to develop healthier habits. Just a week after I arrived at home, my Grandfather passed away from lung cancer, and I couldn’t manage to grieve in a healthy way. I felt I needed to be strong for my parents, and I resisted allowing myself to face the reality that he was gone. I used exercise to pass the time and relieve stress.

After an accidental weight loss, I started getting a lot of compliments that only promoted my behavior. Even my trainer at the gym complemented me right away and made a comment that if I lost 5 more pounds, I’d be at my ideal weight. That was such a LIE, but it was stuck in my head, so I continued to strive for what I considered success at the time.

At the end of the summer, I moved to Germany to study overseas, while continuing to eat less and less, and exercise more and more. In October, my Aunt Paula was diagnosed with breast cancer, and just a few weeks later my other grandfather passed away. My life continued to crumble before my eyes, and the only control I could get was through food and exercise.

As I continued to lose weight and eat in a way that appeared healthy to others, I became the token “healthy” person in the room. My family and friends praised my discipline and what appeared to be “healthy” habits—but I wasn’t feeding my body what it needed, and each time I ate less than I knew I should, the control I had fed my pride. Friends projected their own desires for thinness on me, praising my new, thinner body and asking for advice on how to do the same for themselves.

Again, this only fueled the fire.

Before I knew it, I dropped almost 40 pounds from a body that didn’t have a pound to lose. My pajamas were children’s sizes, yet I found a twisted kind of joy in buying smaller clothes—like I loved watching myself disappear; like that meant I was succeeding.

The turning point for me was a series of encounters with close friends who had the courage to say something about my condition. My friend Erin in particular encouraged me to see the nutritionist at Pepperdine to help me gain back some healthy weight. I took her advice, and finally realized the seriousness of my condition when the nutritionist weighed me in her office and I had to face the scale. I was shocked too see that it reported a number so small I hadn’t seen it since my junior high days.

I believe the reason my illness continued to progress was because secrecy carries a dangerous power. The disease had control over me because I kept it hidden. If I told anyone, I’d be filled with shame and they’d know I was a fraud.

But again, that was a lie. Let me take a pause here to encourage you. We are told in 1 Corinthians 6:12,

‘Everything is permissible for me’ — but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’ — but I will not be mastered by anything.”

If you’re suffering, tell someone. Anyone. A parent, a close friend, a mentor. Just admit your struggle out loud so you can begin the healing process. If your friend is struggling, don’t be afraid to call attention to them. There is an unbelievable power in delivering truth with grace, and you could ultimately save them from a painful, and possibly fatal path ahead of them.

While I obsessed over my food, exercise and body image, I believed the lies about who I needed to be in order to please others or be valuable to God. Although I’m thankful for the experience because God has turned it into good for His glory, no action is without consequence. In fact, I am still affected by the consequences daily.

It’s a daily battle to overcome the desire to be strict with my food It’s taken years to regain an understanding of God’s grace and love, which cannot be earned by good behavior, and to understand that I’m worthy of love ONLY because He says so. I have to remind myself that God’s concern is for my soul, not my outward appearance. He tells us in 1 Peter 3:3-5:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.

Because of the stress I put my heart through by over-exercising and losing so much weight so rapidly, I now have a higher risk for heart problems and osteoporosis, and may not ever be able to have children on my own if I choose to be a parent one day. The reason I tell you all of this is not to scare you or to preach to you, but rather to share the ugliness of the disorder as well as the powerful testimony of God’s faithfulness in my life.

In my darkest time, God didn’t leave me. I felt alone at times, but my pain and struggle drew me closer to Him. Psalm 143: 6-8 says,

I reach out for you. I thirst for you as parched land thirsts for rain. Come quickly, Lord, and answer me, for my depression deepens. Don’t turn away from me or I will die. Let me hear of your unfailing love to me in the morning, for I am trusting you. Show me where to walk, for I have come to you in prayer.

That is how I felt, and God responded in his perfect timing. In a prayer from November 2006, I wrote in my journal:

“I want so badly to just look in the mirror and love myself unconditionally—big or small, make-up or no make-up, dressed up or dressed down. I hate my relationship with food and the guilt associated with eating. Too much? Too little? I never feel like I get it right….Where is my confidence? Where is my love for others? Where is my spirit and unfading optimism? I don’t mean to live in the past, but the present is so painful.”

I am convinced that God heard that prayer, and the many prayers like it, and that he used my brokenness to build me back up the right way-rooted in Him. God is clear in His Word that he uses our weaknesses and struggles for His glory, and also that we have future hopes in Him:

But this precious treasure-this light and power that now shine within us-is held in perishable containers, that is, in our weak bodies, so everyone can see that our glorious power is from God and is not our own. {2 Corinthians 4:7)

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather we look forward to what we have not seen. (Corinthians 4:18)

I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead. (Philippians 3:13)

Our God is faithful to us, and He hears us in our darkest times. I hope my story has been an encouragement to you, whether you are struggling with an eating disorder, have a friend who is, or simply needed to hear a message of God’s real and living redemption.

When has God helped you through a dark time?

Image via Two Ellie

28 Comments

  • Reply
    Rachel
    June 1, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    This post is SO BEAUTIFUL and profound! Thank you for your honesty and openness!

  • Reply
    Shawna
    June 1, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    You’re fabulous and an inspiration, sweet dear friend. Thank you for this amazing post.

  • Reply
    Gennean
    June 1, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Thank you for allowing yourself to be so vulnerable and share such a deep struggle with us so that He is glorified! I never struggled with an eating disorder, but did struggle with self-injury, and so completely understand that need to be in control of something when everything else seems so out of control. Praise God for the ways that He has used your story so far and will continue to! Praying for you, Natalie, and thanking Him for your faithfulness to share!

    • Reply
      Natalie Lynn Borton
      June 1, 2012 at 6:08 pm

      Thanks Gennean! I’m glad to hear that you’ve experienced healing for your control issues as well. It’s a beautiful thing to see God faithfully healing us and empowering us through His Holy Spirit to live in freedom and grace.

  • Reply
    Madison Mayberry
    June 1, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Thank you for being brave enough to share your story with everyone, Natalie! It’s a beautiful story of God’s unfailing love for us, and I’m sure plenty of women will read it and be touched by your message. What a beautiful heart you have!

  • Reply
    Ashlee
    June 1, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    I so admire your strength and willingness to share this part of your life Natalie. I truly believe God has plans to use your testimony to reach women around the world who are struggling with similar battles. Thank you for your honesty, vulnerability, and beautiful perspective!

  • Reply
    Karli
    June 1, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    this is so beautiful, nat. thank you for being so open about your journey…you are changing so many lives! love you to the moon, my best.

    • Reply
      Natalie Lynn Borton
      June 1, 2012 at 11:42 pm

      Thanks Kar–both for your kind words and your constant support in my life. Love you so much!

  • Reply
    Adele
    June 2, 2012 at 1:32 am

    Thank you for sharing your story, Natalie. Our experiences are so similar. I never struggled with my body image in high school, but my own anorexia began once I started working as a nurse in my very early twenties, and continued for several years, during which I lost both my grandma and my dad. I now experience a level of freedom I haven’t known for years and am so grateful everyday. I’m also very thankful for stories and perspectives like yours that encourage and inspire young women to walk in true beauty and freedom with Christ.

    • Reply
      Natalie Lynn Borton
      June 2, 2012 at 1:52 am

      I’m so glad to hear that you’re experiencing such freedom. Another testament to God’s faithfulness for sure. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Annie
    June 4, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    This is beautiful, Natalie. Thank you for sharing! It is always encouraging to hear another way God has been found faithful to redeem.

  • Reply
    Leah
    June 12, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story, girl. How beautiful this King is who reaches into the dark places to draw us close to His heart! I have been this lost too. It is such an encouragement to see how He has renewed your mind and how powerfully He uses your story now :)

    • Reply
      Natalie Lynn Borton
      June 12, 2012 at 2:35 pm

      Indeed–he’s renewed me in so many ways, and I’m thankful my story can be used for good now!

  • Reply
    Stephanie May
    June 15, 2012 at 8:14 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I know that it’s intimidating to share our biggest struggles, but its through the biggest struggles that we see the most redemption. You’ve hit on a topic that so many women deal with. Thank you for your vulnerability!

  • Reply
    anne.
    July 19, 2012 at 4:03 am

    Your bravery is so inspiring to me. I am struggling with this now, as much as it pains me to say; I know you understand, though. Thanks for sharing your story – it helps others in big ways!

    • Reply
      Natalie Lynn Borton
      July 23, 2012 at 5:08 pm

      Thanks for reading, Anne. I hope the way God has worked in my life and through my disorder can give you the hope and inspiration you need to find true healing and wholeness. Feel free to email me any time you just need someone who gets it: natalieborton@gmail.com

  • Reply
    Rachel
    August 25, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Natalie,

    Thank you for sharing this. I am going through the exact same thing right now (even in Massachusetts and at the same point in my life… weird, huh?) I feel very much in a dark position right now where I realize that my health is declining (no menstruation, losing hair, constant tiredness) but I can’t seem to stop. It’s nice to know that others have gotten through it, and maybe I can too. It’s scary though, and very daunting. Please pray for me. It is such a blessing that you are able to put this out there like that.

    I too blog about random, inspirational things if you wanna check it out:
    chaoticallyinspired323.blogspot.com

    Thanks,
    Rachel

    • Reply
      Natalie Lynn Borton
      August 27, 2012 at 10:14 pm

      The coincidence is wild—hough I wish you weren’t in this position at all! You most certainly can pull through this, Rachel. It’s a scary process, but a worthy one. Have you gotten to a point where you’re seeking therapy? I can say from experience that recovery is best done with the help of others. Email me at natalieborton@gmail.com if you want to talk more—you’re not alone!

  • Reply
    Madison
    September 13, 2012 at 2:59 am

    Wow. I just love how God works in us.
    He, too, has helped me with my personal struggle of gluttony that I’ve had for a few years.
    Thanks for sharing. I really enjoy hearing these types of testimonies.

    • Reply
      Natalie Lynn Borton
      September 13, 2012 at 3:45 pm

      Thank you, Madison! I’m so glad you’ve experienced healing, too!

  • Reply
    Interview with Natalie Borton! |
    November 22, 2013 at 7:30 am

    […] your blog, you’ve been very open about your past struggles with an eating disorder. I have shared the story of my own similar struggles on my blog as well, and numerous readers can […]

  • Reply
    Christal
    November 22, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Wow Natalie, your story brought me to tears… for a couple reasons. As a nutritionist I see so many people, particularly women who struggle to love themselves, and have gone through or are going through similar stories to yours, and it is truly in God that I think people can find healing – so as a Nutritionist, who needs to maintain professional boundaries, I find it so hard sometimes to not reach across my desk and say, “can we pray!?” – and although I cannot do that, I can still pray at home for these people. Also, reading this post gave me my own pang of guilt, as it reminded me that I am not free of this struggle myself. It’s hard to separate myself from food, calories, and the striving to be thin and healthy looking and hold an image with my job being what it is, but I’ve also found this comfort in being able to control that aspect of my life so perfectly… with later on realizing it’s done more harm than good. I too, feel that only with God have I been able to focus on the process of truly trying to love myself and let go! Ah, what a journey. Thank you for being so brave to share this.

    Christal

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