Rooted Recommends: Table for Two, Biblical Counsel for Eating Disorders

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Like any compulsive behavior, eating disorders create spiritual, emotional, and physical chaos not only for the sufferer, but for those who love the one who is suffering. It’s hard to imagine a better resource for understanding the spiritual battle of disordered eating than Table for Two, Biblical Counsel for Eating Disorders (New Growth Press, 2021).

Recognizing that entire families are made sick by an eating disorder, Table for Two takes a creative and helpful approach. The book is co-authored by husband and wife David and Krista Dunham. Krista takes the lead, sharing her years of struggle with restricted eating, overexercise, bulimia, and obsession with food. She first told David (her boyfriend at the time) about her struggle as it developed in college, which began his journey with trying, and frequently failing, to understand and to help her cope. They take turns narrating all the faulty thinking, poor coping strategies, and sinful actions and reactions that led them into years of counseling and hard work. By God’s grace, Krista is free and healthy, David has become a pastor and biblical counselor, and their family is thriving.

Table for Two is ideal for reading together. Krista and David are extremely transparent about the sins and the suffering that plagued them and their desperation for Jesus in the midst of it all. Both the “helper” and the “sufferer” will find gospel- focused guidance for their particular challenges. David, for example, shares that Krista’s behaviors “unsettled” him, and that he couldn’t relate or understand why eating a meal what so troubling for her. The help he offered often wasn’t helpful, and even burdened Krista further. For her part, Krista felt betrayed when David told their pastor about Krista’s struggles, and for a long time resented the very interference that ended up setting her on the path to recovery. The Dunhams’ honesty will facilitate conversation for anyone who works through this book together; the grace they extend each other (and themselves) will encourage readers to find their hope and strength in Jesus.

The book includes several practical tools as well, including self-evaluations for both exercise habits and effective listening, a guide to selecting an effective counselor, and interactive exercises for sufferer and helper. Best of all, the Dunhams’ perspective is consistently biblical. The underlying issues that cause eating disorders are primarily spiritual, and the help that both sufferers and helpers need is found in the gospel.

Below are a few quotes from the book that demonstrate the depth of their honesty.

Krista, on the lies she believed:

… my destructive habits often tricked me by giving me what I wanted and then suddenly dropping me into loneliness and self-loathing. They promised one thing and gave me another. Only God is truly unchangeable and 100 percent reliable. Only God can make a promise and truly keep it. (p. 69)

Krista, on praying about her eating disorder:

As a quick-fix gimmick, prayer had failed me. As a consistent, obedient bowing of my heart to God it would eventually draw me back to him. But the frustration of working so hard and not seeing the desired result was enough to send me into somewhat of a spiritual crisis. (p. 44)

David, on learning how to be helpful to his wife:

Eating disorders are isolating habits. They thrive in the darkness, and those who are engaged in disordered eating feel a sense of shame and embarrassment that keeps them from pulling others into their world. By engaging with your loved one, you are inviting them out into the light, you are showing them that you care, and you are reminding them that you are available to listen. They don’t have to suffer alone. (p. 37)

David, on learning from a pastoral counselor:

Getting an outside counselor matters because an objective third party can both say and hear difficult things. It was hard for me to hear Krista say certain things. Some of her thoughts were deeply upsetting — the despair and anger she felt were often hard to endure. Likewise, there were things that Krista needed to hear but were hard to accept from my mouth. My words of affirmation were viewed more as an obligation, not as genuine. (p. 114)

Table for Two will be an invaluable resource for parents and children who struggle together to overcome the dark suffering of an eating disorder. We’ll close with Krista’s words of hope for sufferers:

Every challenge I have faced has given me a new tool. Every time I mess up, I am pointed back to the Scriptures and to the one whose gracious care is more than sufficient for my weakness. And I am continually reminded that because of the saving work of Jesus, my past, present, and future sin was taken care of at the cross. I no longer have to feel such loathing for not measuring up because I have been given the righteousness of Christ. (p.119)

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